Crabtree observes firsthand impact of COVID-19 in New York

Nurse Stephanie Crabtree all decked out in her PPEs (personal protective equipment). Crabtree returned home last weekend from a stint in New York treating COVID-19 patients.

Brittney Lofthouse – Contributing Writer

After spending the last few weeks in New York City, Stephanie Crabtree returned home to Franklin over the weekend. Crabtree, who works in the trauma center at the Northeast Georgia Medical Center on her way to becoming a flight nurse, travelled to New York City to help fight the COVID-19 pandemic at the beginning of May. 

After spending her wedding anniversary, Mother’s Day, and three weeks away from her family and friends – Crabtree said the hardest part of her experience wasn’t the long 12-hour shifts, but rather missing her family. 

“Leaving my family and being away from my kids and husband was definitely the hardest part of the entire experience,” said Crabtree. 

Crabtree arrived in New York City during a time experts considered conditions around COVID-19 to be improving – something Crabtree was able to experience firsthand. 

“When I first arrived up there I was taking care of pretty easy patients,” said Crabtree. “But by the end we were orienting in ICU and ready to take full ICU patients. So it was interesting to see the full spectrum of patients that were there. Also, it was starting to loosen up as far as restrictions go and more people were beginning to get out towards the end of the four weeks. They are close to being able to open back up.”

As the epicenter of the pandemic outbreak for the United States, much of what New York is experiencing is portrayed on the news and in the headlines. When asked what  the biggest difference was in what she has seen on the news versus what she has experienced first-hand – Crabtree said it was the overall impact the virus has. 

“I think the biggest thing is just seeing how this virus affects everyone differently,”  said Crabtree. “We had at least three people in their 30s in the ICU that were intubated on ECMO [Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation] on dialysis and very critical. And then we also had one of our guys who tested positive before he left and he spent two weeks on quarantine and did not have a single symptom. No fever, no cough, nothing. But we see that with other viruses too. It just depends on how your body responds to the virus. Some people respond in a good way and are able to fight it and some people’s immune systems overreact and cause the damage to organs. But it’s definitely not a death sentence if you get it and that seems to be something a lot of people think.”

When Crabtree first headed to New York City, the hospital she works at in Georgia had yet to experience any significant number of COVID-19 cases. While in New York, Gainesville was identified as a “hot spot” and identified as a potential for an outbreak due to a rapid increase in case numbers. The number of new cases in the Gainesville area increased exponentially each week during April, according to state data. By the beginning of May, nearly four dozen patients had died in the area’s dominant hospital system.

Hall County, which includes Gainesville, experienced a dramatic increase in confirmed cases in the past five weeks. During the week of March 29, the county recorded 86 new cases, or 12 a day. The daily average increased to 22 the following week, then 47 and then 61. At the beginning of May, Hall County confirmed 662 new cases, or 95 a day — more than a seven-fold increase in five weeks.

Georgia officials set up a mobile hospital and sending in reinforcements: as many as 100 physicians, nurses and other health care professionals.

 Crabtree said despite the news surrounding Hall County,  nurses are still being sent home from shifts, a sign of improvement. 

“I actually have a week and a half off before I have to go back to Gainesville,” she said. “But I have heard that it is picking up a little down there. But I still see on my schedule where they are canceling people’s shifts. So it’s definitely not crazy or overwhelming from what I hear.”

Crabtree said the biggest question she gets asked is if going to New York changed her perspective on the virus, to which she answers, “no.”

“I think the best thing we can do now is to focus on our immune health, eating healthy, exercising, doing things that boost our immune system and help us fight viruses,” said Crabtree. “The healthier you are when you get this the more likely you are to beat it. And the more healthy we all are the less of an impact this will have on our healthcare system.”