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Front-line nurse shares experience with COVID-19

Courtney Calloway, 39, lifted her bedroom door blinds and saw her mother on the other side of the glass.

Instead of opening the door, Calloway remained on her side as tears slowly began to stream down her face. Her mother started crying as well.

This was the scene at Calloway’s house May 29 shortly after the nurse had been diagnosed with COVID-19.

While infected, Calloway was unable to have contact with her mother or any family members. She could only see them behind a glass door that led from her bedroom to the home’s back porch.

“We just cried,” Calloway said of seeing her mother. “She was very tearful, and she just had to lay her eyes on me. She needed to know that I was OK.”

Since the start of the pandemic, Calloway worked on the front lines at The Medical Center at Bowling Green as a nurse in the hospital’s COVID-19 unit.

Despite not going out in public unless absolutely necessary, Calloway began to feel a shortness of breath one day in May. After seeing that her temperature slowly increased, she received a rapid test that confirmed what she feared.

“By the time I got home they called me and told me that I tested positive,” Calloway said. “I was terrified, honestly, from just seeing how bad it can be and how the worst-case scenarios play out. It was scary.”

To this day, the infection prevention nurse doesn’t exactly know how she got the virus. Calloway was working in the COVID unit and had performed CPR twice in the two weeks leading up to her positive test.

Calloway then began her painful two-week quarantine away from her family, which included her husband and their four children.

“It really burdened my husband as he had to play both roles for us,” Calloway said. “He would leave me food outside on the back porch. I also was able to have a mini fridge in my room.”

Calloway felt the full scale of the virus during the two-week period.

She ran a fever for six days, lost her sense of taste and smell for seven days and frequently had headaches and shortness of breath along with body aches.

“When I was first sick that was one of the most prominent things,” Calloway said of her body aches.

“My elbows killed me. It sounds silly, but I couldn’t lay on the mattress with my elbows down because it hurt so bad. It’s one of the things I remember most,” she said.

After her two-week quarantine period ended, Calloway wasted no time in getting back to work.

However, things weren’t back to normal for the nurse who has worked for The Medical Center for more than 19 years.

“It took a couple of months to feel like myself again,” Calloway said. “I still have joint pain as a result from COVID-19, and I go to the doctor every month for that. Things also still don’t taste the same.”

Calloway continues to work in the COVID-19 unit at The Medical Center on weekends. But with state and national numbers at all-time highs, nurses like her are starting to feel the effects of the pandemic.

“There are not many days when we do not have somebody die,” Calloway said. “They are up there alone with no family, and only the nurse is there holding their hand. This is the most intimate time of their life. Our nurses are going to have long-lasting emotional affects from this.”

“They are exhausted, and they feel in a lot of ways that they are indebted to being here and taking care of these patients,” Calloway said. “They want to be here, and they know they have to be here. But at the same time, they are making huge sacrifices mentally, physically and emotionally.”

Calloway said the nurses at the hospital do have staff on site to talk about their emotional trauma.

But for many of these front-line workers, it will take time before they come close to recovering.

“I feel like I got it in a special spot where some day after this is over, I will unwrap it and kind of digest everything that I’ve went through and I’ve seen,” Calloway said.

The battle that these workers have fought over the past several months has not gone unnoticed by the rest of the hospital staff.

“She is just amazing, as are all of our nurses,” Med Center Health Marketing Specialist Glynda Chu said. “People really don’t realize the (post-traumatic stress disorder) that many nurses are going to have when they see someone out and about that reminds them of one of their former patients who has passed away.”

With the pandemic reaching new heights around the country and world, Calloway does have advice for the general public.

“I would tell people not to go out unless it was absolutely necessary, and to not ignore those little symptoms,” Calloway said. “Pay attention to your body. Think about your parents or your grandparents and those that are compromised, because those are the people who die from it.”

As Thanksgiving approaches, Calloway said she hasn’t seen her mother in-law since March, and she has only seen her 95-year-old grandmother once in that period.

But the front-line worker who is still battling a virus which has now taken the lives of more than 250,000 Americans still sees a light at the end of a very dark tunnel.

“My biggest hope is that we can all get back to pre-COVID times,” Calloway said. “I hope that we can all be together as a family, and we can get back to hugging each other without a glass door preventing us from doing so.”

Heading into holidays, US COVID-19 testing strained again

NEW YORK – With coronavirus cases surging and families hoping to gather safely for Thanksgiving, long lines to get tested have reappeared across the U.S. – a reminder that the nation’s testing system remains unable to keep pace with the virus.

The delays are happening as the country braces for winter weather, flu season and holiday travel, all of which are expected to amplify a U.S. outbreak that has already swelled past 11.5 million cases and 250,000 deaths.

Laboratories warned that continuing shortages of key supplies are likely to create more bottlenecks and delays, especially as cases rise across the nation and people rush to get tested before reuniting with relatives.

“As those cases increase, demand increases and turnaround times may increase,” said Scott Becker, chief executive of the Association of Public Health Laboratories. “So it’s like a dog chasing its tail.”

Lines spanned multiple city blocks at testing sites across New York City this week, leaving people waiting three or more hours before they could even get into health clinics. In Los Angeles, thousands lined up outside Dodger Stadium for drive-thru testing.

“This is insane,” Chaunta Renaud, 39, said as she entered her fourth hour waiting to enter a so-called rapid testing site in Brooklyn on Tuesday. Renaud and her husband planned to get tested before Thanksgiving, when they will drive to pick up her mother for the holiday. “We got tested before, and it wasn’t anything like this,” she said.

On the one hand, the fact that testing problems are only now emerging – more than a month into the latest virus surge – is a testament to the country’s increased capacity. The U.S. is testing more than 1.5 million people per day on average, more than double the rate in July, when many Americans last faced long lines.

But experts like Johns Hopkins University researcher Gigi Gronvall said the U.S. is still falling far short of what’s needed to control the virus.

Gronvall said the current testing rate “is on its way, but it’s nowhere close to what’s needed to shift the course of this epidemic.” Many experts have called for anywhere between 4 million and 15 million daily tests to suppress the virus.

Trump administration officials estimate the U.S. has enough tests this month to screen 4 million to 5 million people a day. But that doesn’t fully reflect real-world conditions. The tests used at most testing sites rely on specialized chemicals and equipment that have been subject to chronic shortages for months.

Adm. Brett Giroir, the U.S. official overseeing testing, downplayed reports of lines and delays earlier this week. In some cases, he said, lines are caused by a lack of scheduling by testing locations, which should stagger appointments.

“I’m sure that is going to happen from time to time, but we’re aggressively helping states in any way that we can if there are those kinds of issues,” Giroir said.

Marguerite Wynter, 28, stood in line for more than two hours to get a test Monday at a Chicago site. She plans on flying to see her mother in Massachusetts for Thanksgiving and staying through Christmas. Massachusetts requires visitors to quarantine for two weeks or show proof of a negative test.

“It’s just more to be safe being around my family,” Wynter said. “It’s just to have peace of mind to know that I’m OK.”

In California, health officials have given mixed messages about whether residents should get tested before the holiday.

San Francisco’s Department of Emergency Management warned that people should not use a test to determine if they can travel. But Contra Costa County, across the bay, suggested anyone insistent on gathering with friends or relatives should get tested.

On Tuesday, federal regulators authorized the first rapid coronavirus test that can be done at home. It delivers results in 30 minutes and will cost roughly $50. But the test kit from Lucira Health will be available by prescription only, and it won’t be rolled out nationally until the spring.

As bad as the wait for testing has become, it is still better than in July, when the U.S. was almost entirely dependent on tests that often take two or more days for labs to process, even under ideal conditions.

As cases surged past 70,000 per day, many people had to wait a week or more to learn their results, rendering the information almost worthless for isolating and tracking cases.

In recent months, federal health officials have distributed roughly 60 million rapid, point-of-care tests that deliver results in 15 minutes. Those have helped ease some of the pressure on large labs. But not enough.

Since Sept. 15, the daily count of U.S. tests has increased nearly 100%, based on a seven-day rolling average. However, the daily average of new COVID-19 cases has increased over 300%, to more than 161,000 as of Wednesday, according to an AP analysis.

This week, Quest Diagnostics warned that mushrooming demand for testing has increased its turnaround time to slightly more than two days.

The lab company said operations are being squeezed by shortages of testing chemicals, pipettes – the slender tubes used to measure and dispense chemicals – and other supplies. Those items are produced by a small number of manufacturers worldwide.

Facing supply constraints and spiking demand, many hospitals have been forced to send some COVID-19 tests out to large labs like Quest for processing, delaying results for patients.

“If I can do the COVID test in-house, we’re talking a small number of hours. If I have to send it to a reference lab, we’re talking about days,” said Dr. Patrick Godbey, laboratory director at Southeast Georgia Regional Medical Center.

Godbey emphasized a stark point that health officials have been making for months: The U.S. outbreak is too large to be contained by testing alone. Americans must follow basic measures such as wearing masks, social distancing and frequent hand-washing.

Room in the Inn leader expects 'more homeless, fewer beds'

What has been inconvenient for most people could turn out to be disastrous for Sharli Rogers and the clients she works with as coordinator of Bowling Green’s Room in the Inn nonprofit that ministers to the city’s homeless population.

A coalition of about two dozen churches that provide shelter and meals to the homeless, Room in the Inn started its four-month cold-weather season this week, and Rogers is already seeing an impact from the coronavirus pandemic.

“Our numbers were a little higher than usual the first couple of nights,” said Rogers, who has coordinated the local program for all seven years of its existence. “The number of people trying to get into Room in the Inn is going to be higher.

“People are getting evicted (from rental properties), and the Salvation Army bed count is lower because of social distancing. We’re expecting more homeless people and fewer beds.”

Fears that the economic disruption caused by the pandemic could skew the homeless numbers this year could be coming true, based on the experience of Rogers and the Ryan’s Making a Difference Outreach that provides meals to homeless and economically disadvantaged people each Saturday.

Rogers, who was busy painting social-distancing markers this week in the parking lot of Room in the Inn’s headquarters at 1033 U.S. 31-W By-Pass, may need a good number of those markers.

The program, which served 273 individuals last year, has already seen 80 new clients sign up this year.

“We expect those numbers to continue to grow,” Rogers said.

What she doesn’t expect is a corresponding growth in Room in the Inn’s capacity, given the constraints of COVID-19.

“Some of our congregations have opted out or consolidated with other churches,” Rogers said. “Most of them are back, but they may be serving fewer people to allow for social distancing.

“We’re still trying to find more congregations. We would like to have two congregations per night. Otherwise, we’re going to have to hand sleeping bags to some people.”

Now that it has a larger headquarters on the bypass, Room in the Inn has taken steps to avoid sending clients out to sleep on the streets.

“We have a dedicated space where people can have access to computers,” Rogers said. “We worked all summer to help folks access that (federal) stimulus money.

“Some were able to make down payments on an apartment. That really helped, but we’re seeing new faces all the time.”

Ryan’s Making a Difference Outreach, which is organized by local teenager Ryan Depp, is seeing a similar trend.

“Our numbers have been a lot higher this year than in the past,” said Doug Depp, Ryan Depp’s father. “We have gone from feeding 25 to 30 people to feeding 50 to 70.”

Fortunately, the Depps’ organization has finally achieved nonprofit status, allowing it to do more fundraising to meet the growing need.

“We have been blessed with some groups stepping up with some pretty big donations,” Doug Depp said. “What we’re seeing is a lot of low-income people who are housed but who don’t have the funds for food like they used to have.

“We’re seeing a lot of people we’ve never seen before. They’re people who may have to choose between paying the electric bill or buying food.”

Doug Depp said anyone interested in donating to Ryan’s Making a Difference Outreach can visit the organization’s Facebook page.

Room in the Inn is also looking for donations, volunteers and churches to periodically serve as hosts for the homeless. Information about volunteer opportunities can be found at the Room in the Inn Facebook page. “We definitely need funds, and we’re doing a sleeping bag drive now,” Rogers said. “Homelessness is not going away any time soon.”

WCPS board members decry loss of 'local control' following governor's order to close

After Gov. Andy Beshear ordered schools across Kentucky to close in the wake of spiking COVID-19 cases, Warren County Public Schools Superintendent Rob Clayton vowed his district will continue to push for in-person classes.

Warren County Board of Education member Amy Duvall lamented the demise of “local control,” and Clayton indicated school officials were caught off-guard by Beshear’s announcement Wednesday.

“Although we received no information prior to the governor’s press conference (Wednesday) afternoon, we have long recognized that the governor had the authority to implement an executive order, which carries the same authority as law,” Clayton wrote Thursday in a district message to parents.

That pattern will hold for elementary school students until at least Dec. 7, and even then, if Warren County is still in the red with its virus incidence rate, schools won’t reopen.

Middle school students – sixth grade included – and high school students won’t return to their classrooms until at least Jan. 4 under Beshear’s order.

Clayton also outlined potential consequences if schools defy the governor’s order to shift to virtual learning beginning Monday.

“Jason Glass, Kentucky Department of Education commissioner, indicated during a conference call (Wednesday) afternoon that he would remove any superintendent or board member who did not comply with the governor’s order,” Clayton wrote Thursday. “Despite this mandate, please know that we will continue advocating for in-person instruction because we understand firsthand how critical this is for so many of our students.”

Speaking during a school board meeting Thursday, Clayton told families to be prepared for the possibility of extended school closures.

“We do need to be prepared for an extended period of virtual learning,” Clayton said. “I’m not trying to predict the future, but it’s very clear to me that there’s a likely possibility that we would remain in the red category. … The reality is that could continue for some time, and there’s not a lot we can do as a school organization.”

Clayton said the district has seen “no students that have been quarantined in these 58 days since Aug. 24 that have a confirmed case of the virus.”

“We’ve had no students be hospitalized as a result of contracting the virus,” barring one staff member who was briefly hospitalized, Clayton said.

“I’m proud to say she’s already reported back to work a couple of weeks ago. And again, we have no evidence to even suggest that the virus has been spread during the school day student-to-student,” Clayton said.

Clayton said the district is continuing to plan for an eventual reopening. “There still will be an update Dec. 1,” he said. “It’s probably going to look a bit different.”

Warren County school board Chairman Kerry Young sympathized with the difficult position some parents now find themselves in, particularly the parents of a sixth grader who can no longer attend the same school as their younger sibling.

“No matter the configuration of your district, the state is going to operate K-5 and 6-12,” Young said.

Board member Lloyd Williford said he sees WCPS as a “beacon” for other school districts across the state to emulate in its response to the coronavirus pandemic. “I do not like to be surprised, and that’s just the way things have happened,” Williford said.

Duvall said “we are being locked down” under the state order. She said students are being harmed by not being in school, and that there isn’t evidence to show schools being open drives increases in COVID-19 cases.

“Schools are not a significant contributor to community spread. Listen to science,” Duvall said.

– Follow education reporter Aaron Mudd on Twitter @BGDN_edbeat or visit bgdailynews.com.

Room in the Inn Coordinator Sharli Rogers poses for a photo in October in Bowling Green.