Two nurses in a Tampa, Florida, hospital put on PPE in August 2020.
Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post via Getty Images
Frontline workers are bracing for a surge in COVID-19 cases amid the highly transmissible Omicron variant.
The variant is now the most common coronavirus variant in the US, the CDC announced.
The rise of the new variant comes as Americans are gathering for the holiday season.
Frontline workers say they're burned out and feel like they're repeating the same day over and over as the Omicron variant spreads across the US.
"It's like the movie 'Groundhog Day,' and it's just the same stuff every day and it never goes away," Taylor Dilick, a travel nurse currently working in South Carolina, told Insider.
On Monday, the Centers for Disease Control said that the Omicron variant made up 73% of recent confirmed cases in the US, making it the most common variant in the country. The variant is believed to be more transmissible and data suggests that cases of the variant are doubling roughly every two days, Insider's Aria Bendix reported.
In the week leading up to Christmas, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that over 1 million cases will be detected. While so far, data suggests the variant causes milder cases for those who have been vaccinated and boosted, hospitalizations may still rise.
Of the US population that is already vaccinated (61.6%), only a little more than 30% were boosted as of Tuesday, per the CDC, and 72.6% of the total population has received at least one shot.
Frontline workers were hailed as heroes at the beginning of the pandemic nearly two years ago with "thank you" signs and nightly clapping.
Now nearly two years into the pandemic, nurses, teachers, and flight attendants tell Insider that they're exhausted as public health experts warn of rising COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in the coming months.
Flight attendants are dealing with anxious passengersIn this Thursday, Feb. 18, 2021, file photo, travelers wear face coverings as they queue up at the north security checkpoint in the main terminal of Denver International Airport, in Denver.
David Zalubowski, AP Photo
George Connelly, a Spirit flight attendant, told Insider that while there haven't been any additional updates to safety protocols, he noticed existing mask policies "seem to be getting under a lot of people's skin."
Connelly said both passengers and flight attendants are getting frustrated that the pandemic is still raging on.
"We do understand the protocols, but it just seems like it's never-ending at this point," he said. "So, a little bit of frustration on the front lines."
He added that conflicts on flights are also continuing to occur and he was recently attacked by a passenger, adding that he's unsure if it can be attributed to the worry of traveling amidst the spread of a new variant or the already stressful holiday season.
Flights, however, have not seen a significant drop in passengers, with many being 90% full, Connelly said.
Connelly added that for flight attendants themselves, he hasn't noticed any added anxiety over Omicron.
"I think that for a lot of us at least in our industry, it feels like it's the same sort of threat level," he said. "I mean, we're in a tin can at 36,000 feet with 200 plus people mostly confined, so regardless of mask or what other protocols they have, it seems like we're still at the same exact risk level as before."
Teachers are worried students could go back to remote learningStudents in a class at Wilson High School in West Lawn, PA, where the desks in the classroom are doubled to provide extra spacing on October 22, 2020.
Ben Hasty/MediaNews Group/Reading Eagle/Getty Images
Schools all across the country shut down in-person learning at the start of the pandemic in early 2020. As they reopened, many schools were forced to move to hybrid learning models or shut down again, as students and teachers got sick.
Abigal Maimone, a first-year high school teacher in Santa Clarita, California, told Insider that she's worried about having to shift to hybrid learning.
Maimone told Insider that she's more a traditional pen and paper kind of teacher and "so it's hard to make those lessons translate to an online environment."
Additionally, she said a hybrid or virtual learning module can make learning more difficult because she said she's concerned that some students may not have the necessary resources or environment to learn at home.
"You don't know what the home environment looks like. You don't know what their access to the internet looks like. You don't know what the added responsibilities for kids with the pandemic are," Maimone said, adding that some kids were home but had to look after other siblings or kids as adults worked.
Additionally, Maimone said that students being out of school for the past year has left a gap in their emotional development, and she worries about a return to virtual learning.
"I mean like overarchingly there is no substitute to in-person learning," she said.
A new wave could overwhelm already burnt out nursesIn this Jan. 7, 2021, file photo, two nurses put a ventilator on a patient in a COVID-19 unit in Orange, California.
AP Photo/Jae C. Hong
The rates of infection and hospitalization have varied throughout the pandemic and throughout various parts of the country. Some states are already starting to see surges in cases, including Ohio where 1,050 National Guard members were called in to help with overfilled hospitals last week, Washington, DC, where cases rose 369% in the past week per data from The Washington Post.
The spread of Omicron means another wave for nurses — already burnt out from limited staffing and two years of a pandemic that's left more than 800,000 Americans dead.
For some travel nurses, the holidays are arriving at a time when their contracts end, and they're not in any rush to take on the next assignment.
Nikki Motta, a travel nurse, told Insider she finished her assignment in Virginia last week but is taking a "hiatus" before taking another job to deal with her mental health.
"I needed a break," she said. "I think just from the everyday toll that work was putting on my mental wellbeing as well as my physical being. I was struggling really really deeply with my mental health the last few months, not just from patient workload, but I think also just kind of the work environment that I was in."
She added: "I think everyone is very stressed out, so it's very easy to kind of project that stress on one another."
Motta said the overload of patients, as well as a shortage of nurses, has meant that while she may only have one to three patients she's personally taking care of, she would often have to help out other nurses who have just graduated or are not specifically trained to treat COVID-19 patients.
Throughout the pandemic, she said she has seen nurses in hospitals all across the East Coast leave the bedside to go into less stressful environments because the workload was too much, and they weren't being compensated adequately.
Dilick, the travel nurse working in South Carolina, also said the lack of adequate pay for staff nurses, alongside working conditions, led to "a mass exodus," with nurses picking up travel positions instead.
That means that sometimes there aren't enough well-trained nurses to treat COVID-19 patients, or staff members have to be retrained, and with the capacity that the pandemic has created, it's difficult.
She said the strain of seeing people die every day as well as the workload made her take a break from April to September of this year.
"I was absolutely burned out and I definitely needed that reboot because I could just feel myself —" Dilick said. "Like I was just exhausted."
She said she can't believe it's been two years since the start of the pandemic, adding that she sometimes thought the pandemic was under control until another wave hit. At this point, she said she won't speculate when the waves will cease, adding that it will only be possible when people get vaccinated.
Alea Chandler, age 10, winces in anticipation of her shot.
Children’s National Hospital
Tayler Oakes, another travel nurse, told Insider that she's also seen nurses quit. Oakes said, while she loves caring for patients and sees herself as always being a nurse, she mainly remained in her current role because the pay is lucrative.
"I became a nurse to help people, and I'm still very much committed to that, but things have gotten so bad and so overwhelming," she said. "I feel so unappreciated that like I do still give 110% at work, and I want to take care of people as absolutely best I can, but things are not changing. The system isn't getting better.
"So, I think the money is what's keeping a lot of us in the industry, which is also super concerning because that's not sustainable at all," Oakes added.
Oakes, who works in pediatrics, said while she's has seen kids with underlying conditions end up ill with COVID-19 throughout the pandemic, it was in the most recent wave at the end of the summer that she saw otherwise healthy kids experiencing more severe symptoms and some even die from the virus. Others are also coming in with long-haul symptoms even after mild cases.
"It's like a perfect storm," she said of a new wave. "It's the holiday, kids are sick during the holidays anyway, and a lot of them are in the hospital with just all the germs that kids love to pass to each other."
While those older than five can be vaccinated, kids under five years old are still not eligible for a vaccine.
"I think it's just a lot of bad things," she said.
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