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Arizona Frontline Nurse Writes Letter Criticizing Trump's Pandemic Response

A nurse administers care to a patient in the acute care COVID unit at Harborview Medical Center on May 7, 2020 in Seattle, Washington. (Karen Ducey/Getty Images)
A nurse administers care to a patient in the acute care COVID unit at Harborview Medical Center on May 7, 2020 in Seattle, Washington. (Karen Ducey/Getty Images)

The U.S. hit over 121,000 new cases of the coronavirus Thursday, another record high.

For frontline emergency room nurse Allison Valdez in Arizona, that means preparing for yet another surge. Her hospital, HonorHealth Scottsdale Osborn Medical Center, has seen an increase of coronavirus positive patients with "unmanageable" symptoms. The hospital’s intensive care units are getting ready for an increase in cases, she says.

She's expecting the volume to be similar to the tremendous spike in the state over the summer.

The hospital has recently allowed family members to visit with patients, a concern for Valdez. A basic screening is done at the triage desk where temperatures are monitored, but she says hospital staff is struggling with enforcing masks for both patients and their family members.

"There’s not 100% cooperation from our visitors at this time," she says.

Patients and visitors aren't allowed to leave the room they're in — a hospital rule. Valdez says people — many who are likely to have the coronavirus or have been diagnosed — are asking to take off their masks and leave rooms.

The rules themselves are also risky. Valdez says if a patient tests positive and the guest is already in the room with them, the hospital staff asks the visitor to leave. That means the guest has been exposed and now goes back out into the waiting room, she says.

Arizona has a large Native American population, a community that has been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. The Navajo Nation announced more curfews as cases rise in northern Arizona. Valdez says her hospital has seen Native Americans coming south to Scottsdale for care. She says they have been "our greatest mass of people with the coronavirus."

Navajo Nation tribe members have "larger groups of family members in one home," she says. "Everyone’s sick, everyone’s got the symptoms and they’re actually pretty, pretty ill."

After her shift, Valdez returns home to her 1-year-old daughter. She says she's become "a little neurotic" with cleaning and showering every time she enters the house after work.

"I was hesitant to pick up my daughter until I completely felt like I was sterile and clean," she says. "I considered leaving her with my parents for a while, especially when the surge jumped up."

She's exhausted, she says, but has mustered up the energy to do some political work. Valdez and a group of nurses wrote an open letter to President Trump, condemning his "reckless and dangerous actions" during the coronavirus pandemic.

They list examples of the Trump administration's actions that are "antithetical to a healthy society and to nursing's values and code of ethics" — from his comments downplaying the virus' severity to his own diagnosis with the disease.

The tumultuous 2020 presidential election is important to Valdez, both as a nurse and as a resident of a key state. The outcome will impact the things that mean the most to her, she says, including the economy, her community and "how seriously people take the spread of this virus and how we’re going to manage it in the future."

Ashley Locke produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Tinku Ray. Serena McMahon adapted it for the web.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.