With the Virginia stay-at-home order in place until June 10, the daily (and nightly) rhythms of the University of Virginia Emergency Department have looked a bit different lately.
Billy Burris — a self-described “baby nurse,” having just graduated from the university’s School of Nursing in 2019 — is an emergency department nurse at the Medical Center. He said that on a typical night, the night shift would start with all 80 emergency room beds filled and 40 people sitting in the waiting room. By the end of the shift, some of the beds may have been cleared out, he said, but in recent months, the ED has tended to be completely filled during these night shifts.
This has changed with the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Now it’s like at the end of the night, we’ll have 10 patients left in the department,” Burris said. “I’ll arrive at 7 p.m. nowadays, like in the past few weeks, and there will only be 35 or 40 people in the department, which is small, very small.”
Burris mentioned car crashes as one of the case types he has seen a decrease in patients coming in for. He said the reduced caseloads have made it quicker for ED patients to be admitted to other wings of the hospital.
“I like to treat every person who comes in — their emergency is an emergency to them,” Burris said. “But not every single case is acute, is what I’ll say. But I’ve been having more acute cases.”
The ED does test for COVID-19 if a patient has qualifying symptoms.
Burris, as one of the nurses who interacts most closely with patients displaying COVID-19 symptoms, said he is worried about what could happen if his coworkers get sick, especially those who are older or pregnant. He said he believes health care workers should be tested more regularly than normal people.
“What happens if you have a doctor who’s asymptomatic, but he’s already infected a majority of his colleagues and then other patients?” Burris said. “It’s kind of overwhelming the scope of everything but … I’m tired of this frontline talk, it’s stupid. It’s not like we just suddenly started existing. … Doctors and nurses have been working this hard before.”
He said the issues that are being brought up now — such as understaffing, hazard pay, turnover and so on — are issues health care workers have brought up before.
“Soldiers get combat pay, we’re getting nothing,” Burris said. “Soldiers make more money every single year, we do not … And I appreciate the clapping, I appreciate all that stuff. But a lot of these problems we complained about before.”