SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) — It’s been two years since the first case of COVID-19 was reported in the United States. In a matter of months, the virus would take flight and land in every corner of the country.
As cases climb again with the omicron variant, local healthcare workers say the trend of surges is tiring.
“I don’t think that anybody thought we would be talking about COVID-19 in January of 2022,” said Sierra Peebles, Chatham County nurse manager. “It’s hard to see that we’re doing everything here – we’re washing our hands, social distancing, wearing our masks – and then we may go out into the community and see that we’re living in I guess 2019 when everything was normal.”
“It’s a little discouraging when you have to go back through these surges again,” said Lori Conaway, director of emergency services at Memorial Health. “I mean, you get to the point where you’re like ‘maybe we can ditch the masks altogether.’ And then all of a sudden, next week you’re pulling out N-95s, masks and goggles and everything else to protect yourself.”
Two years ago, Conaway and Peebles said there was a lot of fear about the virus and not a lot known about it. For Peebles, the health department started to feel the effects of the pandemic when staff began testing hundreds — sometimes thousands — a day.
Conaway said in the emergency department, staff had to learn how to juggle treating patients experiencing other emergencies with those sick with COVID.
It would take another two months for the virus to reach Chatham County. Healthcare workers said there was light at the end of the tunnel with vaccine rollout in December 2020, but that all went away with the Delta and omicron variants.
“The delta variant came through and that was so severe and we saw it taking young people’s lives,” Conaway said. “When our friends who had said ‘oh I’m young and healthy and I don’t need a vaccine’ started dying because of it, I mean it was just so sad to see people who came in that didn’t make it because whether it was they were resistant, or just didn’t think they needed it. It’s unfortunate.”
Those two years have been filled with frustration, fatigue and sadness.
“Probably the most heartbreaking thing was sometimes in a lot of these patients that was the last time they were ever going to see their family member again,” Conaway said. “Even today, when patients that are COVID-positive come to the hospital they’re separated from their families and that’s usually the time when you need your family and support system the most.”
But looking back to the start of it all, both Peebles and Conaway said they are thankful for the support of their colleagues and proud of the work they’re doing.
“That’s my outlet, the way that I know I’m doing my job properly and that my job is making a difference,” Peebles said.
“It did give me a really big source of pride to know that I was gonna be involved in impacting lives and that I was on the front line of that -and I chose to do that,” Conaway said. “I still have a lot of pride around that today.”