Inaction at the state and federal levels have left many health care workers feeling abandoned. When Gov. Burgum issued the order that infected but asymptomatic nurses could report to work in COVID units, North Dakota had not implemented any kind of statewide mask mandate, despite expert guidance that such a measure could significantly reduce transmission of the virus.
Tessa Johnson is a registered nurse at a Bismarck nursing home and president of the North Dakota Nurses Association, which issued a statement last week denouncing Burgum’s order that infected nurses continue to work.
She said the state could have done much more to ensure patients don’t become infected in the first place. “We’ve asked and asked and asked for a mask mandate, and that hasn’t happened,” she said Thursday.
On Friday night, Burgum did an about-face and issued a mask mandate, ordering individuals to cover their faces when inside businesses, indoor public settings and outdoor public settings where physical distancing may be impossible.
“Our doctors and nurses heroically working on the front lines need our help, and they need it now,” he said in a press statement.
Still, Johnson said there’s a disconnect between what health care workers are experiencing inside North Dakota’s health facilities, and how the general population perceives the virus. And that even before Burgum’s comments, some of her colleagues felt they had to choose between taking all precautions and limited time off. “One of my closest friends, also a health care worker, said to me the other day, ‘There’s no way I will ever get tested unless I’m very sick, because I don’t want to use my paid leave.’”
McKamey, the ER nurse, said she hasn’t had time to process the stress of the past several months. She’s focused on staying healthy, gearing up for what she anticipates will be a difficult winter and keeping her patients alive. “We are willing to break our backs and work as hard as we physically can,” McKamey said. “But then to ask us to come in as a potential infectious source is just stunning.”