As COVID-19 cases increase, Valleywise Medical Center preps for influx of patients

Arizona is in the middle of what health experts are calling "exponential growth" with case numbers and hospitalizations closing in on what the state saw over the summer.

Nurses and doctors hustle around one of four COVID-19 units at Valleywise Health Medical Center.

What's going on now is what they've seen before. Many worked through Arizona's first COVID surge over the summer.

"We really were feeling relieved before all of this started. We were seeing a light at the end of the tunnel. And just very, very quickly numbers really started to change."

ICU nurse Jim Fowler has been treating COVID patients for eight months.

Valleywise has seen their number of COVID patients double in the past two weeks and it's up to about 40 now. The peak over the summer was in the 90s.

Arizona reported its third-highest number of new cases ever on Friday.

"These patients are fearful. They see on the news how bad it can get and they don't understand how one day they're a little tired and the next day they're unable to breathe and in the emergency department."

The staff works 12 hour shifts essentially as needed. When the spike occurred over the summer, nurses from out of state were able to come in. Now with most of the country surging, the calvary likely isn't coming.

It means longer days and more goodbyes.

"The majority of patients as they succumb to the disease are saying goodbye via video call, telephone call. Sometimes it happens so [quickly] that we're not able to get a hold of family. That's the most devastating part. They're not able to be here and hold their loved one, feel them. As the nurse, we take the place of the family," Fowler said.

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In order to protect yourself from a possible infection, the CDC recommends: 

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a cloth face cover when around others
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.
  • Monitor your health daily

MAP: Worldwide interactive Coronavirus case data

MAP: Arizona Coronavirus cases by zip code