A voice from the frontlines of COVID-19: 'It’s really scary. A lot of people are dying.'

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COLUMBUS (WBNS) – As Ohio and other states move toward a soft reopening, an Ohio nurse is sharing this message - it’s too soon.

The nurse asked not to be identified out of fear of reprisal from her employer.

She works at the Ohio State Wexner Medical Center on a floor that has seen a recent uptick in COVID-19 patients – some of them being prisoners.

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The coronavirus has struck Ohio prisoners relatively hard – with more than 3,700 inmates testing positive along with more than 300 corrections officers.

The nurse says what she and her colleagues have experienced would make anyone think twice about rushing to reopen the state -- or the country for that matter.

“It’s terrifying. It’s really scary. A lot of people are dying. A lot of people are risking – a lot of healthcare workers are risking potentially their lives and the lives of our family members,” the nurse told 10 Investigates during a lengthy interview.

As of Thursday, Ohio Department of Health released new figures showing there are more than 14,000 COVID-19 cases in Ohio with 656 deaths. Hospitalizations were at 2,960 with 900 people admitted to the ICU.

The nurse talked about the current challenges facing her and her colleagues – that they’re caring for an increased number of prisoners, that there is still a lack of personal protective equipment, which they fear may compromise their safety and the safety of patients they care for.

The nurse and the Ohio Nurses Association both told 10 Investigates that OSU nurses do have access to one N95 mask per shift, but that nurses at other hospitals and health care facilities may be wearing those masks longer until they become soiled or unusable. In some cases, the nurses’ union says its members are being told they can use surgical masks with non-critical COVID-19 patients.

“For everyone on my floor, it’s a very tense place. It’s a very, very high anxiety place. All of us nurses are very anxious we are scared,” the nurse said.

Further complicating the matter, she says, are the number of her colleagues who have become infected.

At least 80 nurses at OSU have fallen ill by the union’s tally, as 10TV reported on April 16. No updated figures were available, according to a spokeswoman for the Ohio Nurses Association.

Under pressure from reporters to release more data, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine has said the state will provide more information on infected healthcare workers in the coming days.

Protesters who have gathered outside the statehouse in recent weeks have renewed their calls on more than one occasion for the governor to reopen the state by May 1.

The governor said Thursday he would provide additional details on that in the coming days.

The nurse we interviewed said from her perspective it’s too soon – with masks in short supply, with her colleagues falling ill, with more prisoners taking up bed space – she says it’s simply too soon to rush to reopen the state.

Her message for those protesting:

“Oh my gosh, come to the hospital. Come to COVID-19 floors and check it out. Come and see all the death for yourself, come and talk to all the nurses who have gotten infected and their families. It’s ugly,” she said.

10 Investigates reached out to OSU Wexner Medical Center with questions about personal protective equipment, re-use of masks and fit-testing of frontline healthcare workers.

A spokeswoman provided us with this statement, which read in part:

“Nothing is more important to us than the health and safety of our patients and staff. Throughout this pandemic we have been following CDC and Ohio Department of Health guidelines for the use of personal protective equipment. We’re taking every possible measure to obtain these nationally scarce resources. Our supply chain team has and continues to work tirelessly to identify alternative sources for PPE and to work with Battelle to re-sterilize N95 masks. While these ongoing measures have improved our inventory of PPE, we also must rigorously comply with proper hygiene, cough etiquette, social distancing and PPE use and conservation guidelines to optimize safety as we begin to transition back to normal operations.

We follow federally established standards for fit testing our employees. During this pandemic, we have fit tested more than 4,000 additional staff. It is neither necessary nor a practical use of a nationally scarce resource to fit test people who are not required to wear an N95 mask.

Any safety concerns regarding patients that are brought to our attention are quickly addressed in a professional manner. We do not comment on specific patient events to protect the privacy of those who choose us for their care.”

Coronavirus: What you need to know

There are now 31,625 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Ohio; 1,888 people have died from the virus and 5,773 were hospitalized, according to the Ohio Department of Health. Breakdown of Ohio cases by county >>

For most people, the virus causes mild or moderate symptoms that clear up in a couple of weeks. Older adults and people with existing health problems are at higher risk of more severe illness, including pneumonia, or death.

10TV is committed to bringing you a FACTS NOT FEAR approach to our coronavirus reporting. You can count on 10TV to give you the latest developments and the impacts on you and your family. For complete coverage, visit: 10TV.com/coronavirus.

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