It’s a frightening time to work in healthcare. Doctors and nurses stand a higher chance of coming down with COVID-19, the deadly new coronavirus that’s sweeping the globe. During the outbreak in Wuhan, 1,300 healthcare workers became infected, and their likelihood of infection was more than three times as high as the general population. In Georgia, a mammogram technician was found dead of the disease in her home last week, with her young child nearby. There will be many more tragic stories like this.
Yet, despite these terrifying risks, doctors and nurses continue to work grueling schedules to save lives. For working moms in the field, there’s added anxiety: the possibility of bringing the virus home to their children; the difficulty of finding childcare when schools and daycares are shuttered; and the struggle to take care of their families while they work long hours. It’s why we owe them an unending debt of gratitude, and all the love we can possibly send their way.
But there are concrete ways we can help doctors and nurses during this crisis. Here’s what they say.
1. Provide childcare.
With schools closed in more than half of the country, working mom nurses and doctors have been left scrambling to find childcare because, obviously, they can’t work from home. Many have already stepped up to help. Medical students at Washington University in St. Louis, Northwestern University in Chicago and the University of California, San Francisco, Medical Center are offering childcare and pet care services, for example. But we shouldn’t let the burden fall entirely to medical students. If you have the capacity to care for another little one, “volunteering to babysit would be helpful,” says Alexa Carty, a nurse and mom of one in New York City. It was the No. 1 concern of the healthcare workers we interviewed.
2. Run errands.
Thanks to toilet paper hoarders, shopping for essentials has become a competitive sport, with people lined up at odd hours to snag groceries. That’s problematic for healthcare workers who can’t always head to the store the second it’s restocked. “Help shop for necessary household items that have become harder to find on store shelves,” suggests J. Chidimma Acholonu, M.D., of Comer Children’s Hospital at the University of Chicago Medical Center.
3. Stay home.
One of the easiest things you can do is simple: Stay home. Social distancing is one of the most effective ways to slow down the spread of the coronavirus. That holds true even if you think you’ve got it. “If you’re ill, but not ill enough for admission to the ER, stay home. It doesn’t matter if you are tested—there’s no treatment, just supportive care. Isolate yourself and try not to spread it,” says Wendy Glaberson, M.D., a pediatric nephrologist and hospitalist, and a voluntary assistant professor of pediatrics and pediatric nephrology at UHealth Jackson Children’s Care in Florida.
Ashley McIntosh-Barton, a nurse and mom of one in Ontario, Canada, was one of many healthcare workers who went viral for imploring everyone to stay home. “People in the hospital are already immunocompromised, one more virus—especially this particular one, could kill them,” she says. “This is a matter of life and death. Stop being selfish and think of everyone else who is already fighting for their lives here.”
4. Donate personal protective equipment (PPE) if you have it. Advocate for more if you don’t.
Nurses and doctors across the country face a looming shortage of PPE, such as masks, gowns and goggles. Some hospitals have already started reusing masks. That’s a huge problem. “It goes without saying that if our nurses, physicians and other workers are exposed and taken out of commission (because they are on quarantine or themselves sickened) that the hospitals will cease to function,” reads a letter from the New York State Nurses Association to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. If you’d like to donate supplies in New York City, where the virus has hit hardest in the US, here’s a handy guide. If you don’t have any to donate, pressure your elected officials to obtain more PPE for the hospitals and care providers in your area.
5. Check in.
A study of healthcare workers in Wuhan found that half reported suffering depression, and almost half struggled with anxiety, during the region’s outbreak. “At the end of the day, check in on those in healthcare, mothers and non mothers alike,” says Dr. Acholonu. “As others get to recognize the privilege of working from home and prioritizing safety, the reverse is true for those of us in the hospitals.”