Registered nurse Sara Lobre commutes more than an hour each way to work in the intensive care unit at Adventist Health Bakersfield. She used to stay with her mother-in-law between shifts to eliminate at least one long round trip to and from her home in Kernville. COVID-19 has changed that.

“Before the pandemic, she would also watch my daughter,” Lobre, 39, said. “My poor mother-in-law is lonely, but I can’t risk her health.”

Avoiding contact with extended family members, constant cleaning and disinfecting, sometimes sleeping and showering at work, and trying to reassure worried children. Those who serve on the front lines of health care and public safety during the COVID-19 pandemic have had to rethink routines and adjust to new protocols to keep themselves and their families safe.

Before emergency room Dr. Kian Azimian, 44, leaves from each of his shifts at Bakersfield Memorial Hospital, he uses disinfectant wipes to clean his phone and stethoscope.

“When I get into the garage at home, I strip down and everything goes into a bin,” he said. “I walk straight to the shower. The first thing I touch is the shower knob.”

His three young children know the house rule: No one goes near him until he is clean.

Delano Patrol Officer Lloyd Galutira, 38, showers at the police department before going home to his family. He places any uniforms worn or equipment used in a separate bag to sanitize.

“I constantly clean and disinfect my hands, the interior of both my patrol vehicle and personal vehicle,” he said. “I practice social distancing from people outside work and home groups.”

Family Cooperation and Sacrifice

In 18 years of practicing medicine, Azimian has never seen anything quite like this. When it became clear in March that the pandemic would have an impact everywhere, he told his wife, Carrie, that the availability of masks for every single person who came to the hospital might be an issue. So she and her sister Kelly Youngstrom reached out to multiple groups in town and they worked together to sew more than 2,000 cloth masks, which they brought to the hospital for all nonmedical personnel and visitors.

“Every single mask was used,” Azimian said.

Ensuring physical safety isn’t the only task. He also has to comfort his children, one of whom expressed her fears that he would contract and die from the virus.

“My kids understand enough to be scared and concerned,” he said.

Making Adjustments

During this time of pandemic, Galutira explained that police officers in Delano are required to wear masks or face coverings when they interact with members of the public and wash their hands thoroughly on a regular basis. The city of Delano provided masks for all of its officers. All urgent calls that are a matter of life and death or are crimes in progress must be answered in person. Less urgent matters are now handled telephonically.

Galutira, who has been a police officer for 14 years, said that wearing all the personal protective equipment is an adjustment.

“But as police officers, we have to be agile and adapt,” he said.

To assist employees who fear putting family members at risk, Adventist Health set up a quiet area in its facility’s meeting rooms with cots and linens. Lobre has slept there occasionally. In the COVID units, they wear N95 masks, face shields, surgical bonnets to cover hair, isolation gowns, booties to cover shoes and sometimes, what they call a bunny suit, which Lobre explained is an additional coverall to protect scrubs.

“What a lot people don’t realize is that N95 masks are not one size fits all,” she said. “If you lose 10 pounds, the mask may not fit properly anymore.”

Since the pandemic took hold locally, Azimian said the Memorial Hospital has limited the number of visitors. Everyone who walks in — be it patients, visitors or workers — has to get their temperature checked. And everyone has to wear a mask.

Separating the COVID patients from the non-COVID patients helps the medical staff use their personal protective equipment more wisely and efficiently, which Azimian explained is a top priority now.

Humanity in the Digital Age

Health care professionals have had to make another challenging adjustment in the face of the novel coronavirus crisis.

Lobre, who has been a registered nurse for more than seven years, said: “I would say the hardest thing for us has been the family visitation restrictions. As an ICU nurse, we’re used to having difficult conversations face to face. Now we have to do it virtually with people who have a lot of uncertainty and fear, which has probably been the most difficult for all of us. It’s not just the COVID-19 patients, it’s everyone in the hospital without the virus. Because of the concerns, we’ve had to restrict visitation for those patients as well.”

Like many living through these uncertain times, Azimian uses digital technology to stay in touch with friends and extended family. He also likes chatting with fellow doctors around the country to see how their practices have been affected and adjusted in the face of the pandemic.

Azimian’s shifts have actually been shorter because there has been less overall traffic in the ER since the pandemic became a local threat. Returning to the higher number of patients would actually be a sign to him that things are returning to some semblance of normal. But that will not happen overnight. Nor should it, he contends.

He hopes that people who want to learn more about the virus and how to stay safe will utilize reliable sources for information.

“Coronavirus has become very political. The virus doesn’t care which political party you’re a part of. Your political affiliation won’t protect you,” Azimian said. “If your car was broken, you wouldn’t go to Facebook to fix it. You would go to a mechanic. Please, don’t use (opinions people post on) Facebook and social media as your source of info. Go to the (Centers for Disease Control) or World Health Organization.” 

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