By Mariela Trevino and Amy Hernandez
Since the coronavirus first appeared in the United States in January 2020, over 574,000 Americans have died from COVID-19 and over three million have died worldwide.
Several new variants of COVID-19 have emerged in the last five months from multiple countries, including the UK B.1.1.7 variant which is currently the dominating strain in the United States. A mix of factors has led us to this fourth wave in the pandemic such as spring break vacations, states reopening and loosening restrictions, and the arrival of warmer weather.
Across the United States, nearly 198 million doses have been given, 78.5 million people have been fully vaccinated and 24% of the population has been inoculated. Despite vaccination efforts though, COVID-19 is still leading the race against the clock.
Three people from different walks of life will offer a glimpse into what living and working with COVID-19 is like.
Clare Lobaton, Registered Nurse
Clare Lobaton, 23, is a Registered Nurse at St. Alexius Medical Center in Hoffman Estates, assigned to the COVID unit. Lobaton’s hospital treated the first COVID-19 patient in Illinois, who was also the second confirmed COVID patient in the United States.
Lobaton’s responsibilities include passing meds and administering antibiotics or any other medication patients are already taking due to preexisting conditions.
“In specific to COVID, I monitor their oxygen levels,” she said. “I [also] determine if they need physical therapy or occupational therapy.”
Lobaton explained that in physical therapy, patients work on building up their strength. In occupational therapy, they work on daily activities such as getting dressed or walking around the room.
Treatment for COVID-19 patients changed in the past year as medical professionals gathered more information on the virus. Lobaton mentioned her hospital helps COVID patients fight the virus with antibiotics, plasma, and steroids.
Regarding the use of steroids, Lobaton said, “steroids encourage the body to get rid of the infection faster.”
By the same token, receiving blood plasma can help COVID patients fight the virus faster because the blood from people who recovered from COVID-19 contains antibodies capable of fighting the virus that causes the illness.
Unfortunately, Lobaton and her parents, who are also nurses, contracted the virus in December. While Lobaton was asymptomatic, her parents experienced COVID-19 symptoms that lasted weeks. Lobaton and her father had to miss two weeks from work, and her mother had to miss a month.
Lobaton said her parents felt like “they couldn’t get a good breath in and felt very weak. They spent most of their time in bed or sleeping.”
“And it’s just the timing of it all because me and my mom were supposed to get our COVID vaccines that same week that we tested positive,” she said.
As a nurse working on the frontlines, Lobaton has observed changes in the number of COVID-19 cases.
“From summer to maybe December, our floor was full COVID,” she said. “And I work on a floor where there are 32 beds.”
Lobaton noted a “quieter” time around February when there were only 20 COVID-19 patients in the entire hospital.
“But now, specifically this week, the floor has become all COVID again,” Lobaton said. “I think it’s because things have been opening back up again, and the weather is getting nicer.”
One of the hardest things Lobaton has experienced at work is being told “I can’t breathe” by her patients who have already received their treatments. “It’s like a feeling of helplessness,” she said.
Lobaton mentioned the dominant age demographic in the hospital used to be the elderly, particularly nursing home residents, but that has changed now.
“In the recent surge of COVID patients, it’s actually more middle-aged adults,” she said.
What Lobaton has observed is what the rest of the nation’s hospitals are seeing, young-middle-aged adults are now the ones filling up the COVID floors. Experts infer this change has occurred because people who are 65 and older have most likely been vaccinated.
As a result, the virus is spreading to those who haven’t been inoculated. Reopenings and warmer weather are also playing a significant role.
Lobaton’s sacrifices and hard work as a frontline worker are commendable as many people continue to contract COVID-19. Her experiences and observations remind people that the pandemic is not over, and following safety protocols remains necessary.
Armando Palomar, Essential Worker
Armando Palomar, 21, is a garden department head at Home Depot who began experiencing COVID symptoms on May 30. Palomar remembers a coworker who became ill two days before he began experiencing the first symptoms and speculates he contracted the virus at work.
At the time, Palomar was working 60 plus hours a week because Home Depot was named an essential business. A lot of people were also calling off work, so other workers, including Palomar, had to make up the hours.
Palomar experienced COVID symptoms for about two weeks, and the first symptom he experienced was tiredness. It was followed by body pain and a headache. Then, he developed a fever that lasted around three to four days.
“When I had the fever, that’s when I started to experience the loss of taste and smell, and my appetite was really low,” he said.
The last symptom he developed was trouble breathing, and that’s when he went to the hospital. At the hospital, Palomar was told he was showing traces of an infection in his lungs.
“I was put on antibiotics, and I was given oxygen,” he said.
Palomar was in the hospital for 2½ days. Afterward, he still had access to oxygen at home because he has a nebulizer due to his asthma.
Palomar had to miss three weeks from work, and when he finally returned, it was no easy task because he had lost about 20 pounds and felt weak.
“On the first day, my legs hurt really bad. I had only worked two hours, but it felt like 10,” he said.
Lily Romo, First-Year College Student
Lily Romo, 18, is a first-year student at the College of Western Ohio. Romo tested positive for COVID-19 on January 20, a week after her younger brother first began experiencing COVID symptoms.
Romo initially panicked when she couldn’t taste her toothpaste, and that’s when she decided to get tested. The symptoms Romo experienced were loss of taste, smell and fatigue.
“Going up my stairs was the worst,” she said. “Normally, I go up and down my stairs with no problem, but I was just so out of breath and playing with my dog, I was out of breath too.”
Everyone in Romo’s household tested positive for the coronavirus.
“Unfortunately, my mom had it the worst because she has asthma, so she ended up developing pneumonia from it,” she said. “And she even had to go to the hospital because she had an asthma attack, and the doctor said she was having a heart attack.”
Regarding treatment, Romo took vitamins and medicine for a stuffy nose. So far, Romo hasn’t noticed any long-term symptoms. The only strange thing Romo has recently experienced is soda tasting really bad.
“Any kind of soda tastes absolutely horrendous to me,” she said. “Sprite, Coke, and Dr. Pepper all taste horrible except for orange soda and sparkling water.”