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‘You’ve got to help us out’: Houston nurse begs residents to wear face masks

Many states are seeing surging coronavirus cases, but Texas is breaking records. As single-day deaths rise to unprecedented levels, Gov. Greg Abbott warns the worst is yet to come. Amna Nawaz talks to Belinda Metts, nurse manager of a COVID-19 intensive care unit at Houston Methodist Hospital, about the spike in cases and the one thing she wishes Texas residents would do during the outbreak.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    As a number of states see spikes in coronavirus cases, Texas is breaking records.

    This week, the state set new highs for single-day deaths and the number of positive coronavirus tests. Texas Governor Greg Abbott warned that next week will be worse.

    Amna Nawaz spoke recently with Belinda Metts. She's a nurse manager of an all-COVID intensive care unit at Houston Methodist Hospital.

    She started by asking her about this latest spike in cases.

  • Belinda Metts:

    When we first locked down, people stayed at home. You didn't see people on the streets. You know, it was taken seriously, I feel like.

    And then, as things began to open up, everybody maybe had a sigh of relief and said, great, we have got this. We have got this. And then it — then we didn't.

    You know, I think, when things open, it sends the message that everything's OK. It feels like people aren't taking it as seriously. And it's more serious now in Houston than it was before. We're more crowded now than — in the hospitals than we were before.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Tell me what that looks like for you in terms of the supplies that you have, in terms of the patients, the bed capacity. What does that look like day to day?

  • Belinda Metts:

    We have plenty of masks and gowns and that type of thing.

    I think that what we're seeing now, as far as what we need, is, we need more room, we need more beds. And, fortunately, in the Texas Medical Center and at Houston Methodist, we have the ability to make more beds.

    You know, people to take care of those patients is a little challenging, but we are bringing on people from outside of the state, traveling nurses, to support us.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Tell me a little bit more about the patient mix. Are they older or are they younger?

  • Belinda Metts:

    I have a patient who's 88 and I have a patient who is 30. So, it's really across the board.

    Many of the patients do have underlying illnesses, such as diabetes or other lung diseases, that make it specific — and particularly hard with COVID. But we do sometimes have patients who have nothing. They have never been sick a day in their life and, for whatever reason, they haven't done well with COVID.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So, Belinda, you have been doing this for over 30 years. It seems like it would take a lot to phase you.

    But, in this moment, what is it that worries you about the virus and what you're seeing right now?

  • Belinda Metts:

    I mean, I feel like we have capacity right now, but I'm like, how many more patients are going to come, and are we going to keep having that capacity to care for these patients, not necessarily in the form of a physical bed, but in the form of a nurse or a doctor?

    We feel — you know, we're starting to feel on the thinner side. And we know there's help on the way, but I just — I just wonder where the end point is.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    What's that like for you as a manager, when you're in charge of all these people who are worried about getting sick themselves?

  • Belinda Metts:

    Yes, I do worry about my employees. And we certainly have a fair number of employees who are testing positive now, which also impacts the work force.

    You know, I spend a lot of time out on the floor with my nurses and staff just trying to encourage them and relieving their stress however I can. It's stressful because, you know, these patients cannot have families come and visit them.

    And so, often, the nurses do become their families. And, sometimes it's — we have some sad moments with our patients. And that takes a toll, too.

    When you go home, you're thankful for your family. You love your family. And you're just thankful for every moment you have.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    If you could wave a magic wand and change one thing about anything in the community that you're serving right now, what would it be?

  • Belinda Metts:

    Well, one, I wish everybody would wear a face mask when they go out. I do.

    It's hard for me, because we know that, with two people who have masks on, that the incidence of transmissions go down considerably. I guess I don't understand why people don't want to protect each other and protect themselves, especially in the face of everything that's happening.

    And I just feel like you have got to help us out. We want to help every — I want to help all patients. They have got to help us out. We have got to decrease the admissions that are coming in through our doors right now.

    And if that's the way to do it, I don't understand why people don't want to do that.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Do you think that people don't believe that it's not — as bad as it is because they're not seeing what you see everyday?

  • Belinda Metts:

    I want to say, come to work with me. Come on. Let's go. Come see what I see every day and see how that affects your attitude about what COVID is and what's happening to people.

    People say it's no worse than the flu. Well, for some people, it might not be any worse than the flu, but, for many others, they're losing their lives to it and they're dying alone.

    And I hate it when I hear people say, oh, it's only a 2 percent or 3 percent mortality. Well, it's only 2 percent or 3 percent until it's your 2 percent or 3 percent and your family.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    When you see the way the cases are rising right now, how are you preparing for what's ahead? How do you go home at the end of the day and get ready for what's the next 14-, 16-hour day?

  • Belinda Metts:

    A lot of my nurses are chronologically very young. And so I stress to them that this is a pandemic. It's hard to plan for a pandemic. And it's hard for me to tell you exactly how your day is going to go every day.

    But we became nurses for a reason. And we need to rise to the occasion, and we need to meet the needs of the patients.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Well, we wish you all, all the luck, and good safety and good health in the weeks and the months ahead.

    That's Belinda Metts, nurse manager at Houston Methodist Hospital in Texas.

    Thank you so much for being with us.

  • Belinda Metts:

    Thank you for having me.

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