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Health care workers warn of 'COVID fatigue' as cases continue to rise

As the holiday season draws near, Briones-Pryor said people need to be extra mindful of safety guidelines, which include wearing a mask properly.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — After more than half a year spent fighting the novel coronavirus, Dr. Valerie Briones-Pryor still has a lot to learn.

"There's still some unpredictability about it, which is still the most frustrating part for me," she said. "I would think I've been doing this since March that I should know how the clinical course is going to be, but I'm still getting schooled by COVID every week."

As the medical director of the UofL Health Medicine Service Line and the doctor in the UofL Health Jewish Hospital COVID-19 unit, Briones-Pryor has seen up close what kind of damage the coronavirus can do.

"I have patients who can't breathe. I'm giving them the highest amounts of oxygen that I can give them without putting them on a ventilator and they're still struggling to breathe," she said. "I see folks who are 50 years old who can't even walk from the bed to the bathroom without getting short of breath."

While she understands the majority of people who contract COVID-19 will not have to stay at a hospital, she said there is still a lot to understand when it comes to how a person responds to the virus.

"You hope when you get it you'll be in the majority that recover and don't ever have to come to the hospital, but you don't know that," she said. "I don't know that of you. I can just pray for the best for you."

Briones-Pryor said the treatments are appearing to become more effective as doctors and nurses learn more about the virus. But she said she and other healthcare workers have noticed a new challenge when it comes to preventing the spread of COVID-19 - something that is being called "COVID fatigue" or "pandemic fatigue" as the sense of togetherness and willingness to make sacrifices that had been the norm in the early months of the pandemic have now turned to frustration.

"We see it even here," she said. "When is this going to end? When can we go back to normal? When can I stop wearing this mask? And we can't. When I come up on the COVID floor and I see a whole new group of patients that weren't here two days ago, I know that we can't get tired."

This comes as cases around the country and around the state of Kentucky continue to rise. According to the governor's office, Kentucky saw a single-day record of 738 hospitalizations and 192 patients needing ICU care due to the coronavirus last Thursday, which fits what Briones-Pryor and other healthcare workers are seeing in their wards.

"I was off the weekend," she said. "I left here and I had seven patients. I came back and I had seven patients, but four of them are brand new."

Dr. Briones-Pryor said one thing she has noticed recently is there are more families who are getting sick together.

"They'll say, 'Well we had a get together. We didn't think that it was a big deal.' And then next thing you know, a week later, they're all sick.," she said.

As the holiday season draws near, Briones-Pryor said people need to be extra mindful of safety guidelines, which include wearing a mask properly covering both the nose and mouth and practicing social distancing at the same time when out of the home. She said people should also do their best to limit gatherings to people in their immediate household.

"I worry about what this COVID unit is going to look like come November, December if we're not doing the right thing," she said.