Season 16 | Ep. 1

COVID Diaries: Then and Now

It has been more than a year since the coronavirus pandemic struck altering life for everyone. On Transforming Health: Coronavirus Then and Now we’ll revisit the stories of those we interviewed at the start of the pandemic. We’ll hear from front line workers, teachers, parents and more. How has life changed and what are they expecting in the near future.

When the coronavirus pandemic struck, life as we knew came to an unexpected halt. It was a time unlike any other and that’s why we began collecting your stories. Because from frontline workers to small business owners, everyone had a story to tell and sharing them was more important than ever.

Announcer: Today, healthcare is about empowering people to take control of their health. Whether creating a fitness routine, choosing the right procedures or medications, or adhering to treatment for a chronic condition. Capital BlueCross, dedicated to underwriting “Transforming Health” for the good health of the community.

WellSpan Health. Helping patients reaching their health goals through a coordinated system of physicians, hospitals, and convenient healthcare services in communities across central Pennsylvania. Learn more at wellspan.org. WellSpan Health. For the journey that is life. Support also comes from viewers like you. Thank you.

Hello and welcome to “Transforming Health: The COVID Diaries Then and Now.” I’m Keira McGuire. Over the next half hour, we’ll revisit stories we first brought you at the start of the pandemic and give you a look at life one year later.

It’s Sunday, March 29th. Little bit before midnight. Finding it increasingly hard to sleep at night.  My professional life the past ten years has revolved around caring for the terminally ill and the actively dying. Are there days that I come home crying and things that I need to decompress. But it’s usually not such a sustained, prolonged, anxious anticipation of what’s to come. But that’s what makes this different. Is the not knowing. Not knowing that’s gonna happen. Last Monday was the day I had an absolute breakdown. Because I got to work and saw — how-how much preparation we were doing for something we knew was coming and yet at the same time just feeling vastly unprepared. And it’s like I said, every day last was like a new — [ sniffles ] a new level of nightmare become a new norm that was just — hard to digest. Hi. It’s me again. Home from work. This is Professor Theodore Caufield. One of my quarantine buddies and the naughty Miss Eloise. Yeah, I know you’re sweet. You’re not naughty. You’re sweet. I know. You’re my good girl. So, I was up on these-these isolation wards that were really intimidating over the past week because I would see like the plastic with the zippers and signage. And thought like, you know, I’m not gonna go in there until I absolutely have to and today was the day that I had to. So, I was given an N95 mask. Although, it’s as you can see, a contractor version. Because we just don’t have the medical ones that are adjustable and have been fit tested to our faces. And then this face shield that goes on like this. And after every patient encounter is sanitized the outside with bleach wipes that in theory protects the outside of this from getting droplets on it. But as you can see it’s not a perfect system. It’s unfortunately just an impact of this-this whole outbreak that our system was not prepared for.

Susie Carl, CRNP, ACHPN

Susie Carl, CRNP, ACHPN

Inevitably I’m gonna be exposed. Could have been today. I was so scared every day. It’s hard to think about. Like to go back to that place. And even in that moment, I don’t think I really realized it because you just have to wake up and keep going to work and doing your job. I remember taking a video where I showed you what like hardware store n95 looked like and the face shield. And I knew then that I would get COVID because I knew I wasn’t protected. I was just like a little sick for the first week. And then I just started to get incredibly symptomatic and wound up in the hospital myself for five days. It eventually developed into the bilateral pneumonia that my patients were dying from. Whoever said this is like a mild flu was on something because I’ve had the flu. It was nothing like that. It felt like being underwater and being hit by an 18-wheeler. It was horrible. When I got sick, I wasn’t scared. Even when I went to the hospital. It’s in the aftermath that I think about being in those moments. The realization that, you know, people who were my colleagues were all of a sudden monitoring me. Yeah, it totally shook me. And for like several months I had nightmares because, yeah, it was in hindsight like incredibly traumatic. The whole experience. This past year I think everyone in some way, like their foundation has been shook. Now what do you do now that your foundation is broken? Can you rebuild it? And the time to find a new foundation. And for me, it was salt, air, and sunshine. And so, I wound up finding a rental in a beach house outside of Jacksonville. I found a new job where I’m seeing patients only remotely which is amazing because I have no desire to ever step foot in the hospital again. This past weekend was easter Sunday and I sat out on the patio in front of a pool looking at the ocean with eight people were complete strangers to me six months ago. We’ve all been vaccinated. I mean, it was just incredible to sit around and talk about, you know, where our lives were a year ago and where they were today. And it’ll be interesting to see how-how I look back at this time in my life because it’s been very unpleasant. You know, it was awful. It was awful. And I think — like I said, to be an awful thing that was a catalyst for such necessary change in my own personal life has been incredibly rewarding.

Hi. It’s Tuesday afternoon. My cube is starting to look more like a stockpile of sorts. We’ve got some extra supplies that are getting stored in my office.

Tell me about the calls you’re getting right now.

In general, the feeling is people are just afraid to go to the hospital. We’ll be your tour guides today for the de-con of this lovely vehicle that will be our chariot for the day. Wipe down all surfaces that potentially could hold any spores which is pretty much is everywhere. So, we do walls, we do benches, we do cabinets. Following the morning ritual, de-conning inside, getting the trucks cleaned outside. Right now, all of our personnel are issued an n95 mask. They’re told to hold onto that mask unless it becomes physically damaged. That it’s not useable or obviously soiled. That’s the only choice we’ve have. Beyond that, if we were switching out with every patient, we’d probably make it the next 30 days to give out. That’s about it. We don’t believe at this point any of our members have had contact or exposure to a COVID-19 patient. We’re always waiting to find out if there’s somebody that we saw a week or two weeks ago that comes back, tests positive. That’s always in the back of your head that at some point you’re going to get sick. Or you’re going to be exposed to something that you don’t want to.

Joseph Stevens, EMT-P, EMS Chief of York Regional Emergency

Joseph Stevens, EMT-P, EMS Chief of York Regional Emergency

It’s been hectic. Chaotic. Unsure. [ Laughing ] it’s definitely been a very challenging year that’s tested our ability to respond in a completely different level that we have ever anticipated. I think at the time we had last talked we were sort supplies. All of our regular supplies were back ordered. We were literally living day-to-day. There was a regimen where were taking our n95 mask and putting them on low-time, low-doses through our microwave oven. We had an old microwave oven donated to us that we didn’t use for food. Cleaning them as best we could because we were so short supplied on n95 masks. We slowly started to pull out of that. I wanted to say towards mid, late summer. We started to pull up out of that where things started to be more readily available. Exposure of our people from day one was always a concern.

Certainly, a fear for us. And in the end, somewhere between a quarter and a third of our staff were infected with COVID. As a matter of fact, I currently still have two people off right now with COVID. I think the light at the end of the tunnel is kind of a blur. [ Laughter ] we don’t think we’ll ever return to a life like we knew before or what we did in the past. I think we’re forever changed. Especially in our industry here. I guess the silver lining is I have a tremendous amount of respect for our staff. When other people just washed their hands and walk away and say “ah, I’m done. This is just too much.” They just came back day after day and said what’s next?

Hi, my name is Tina Strow. And I’m the owner of just plain yoga studio in Lemoyne.

Tina, how has your business been impacted by COVID-19?

So, the big change for us at the yoga studio has been that we have had to take our classes online. It was either that or nothing at all. Being an entrepreneur, there’s always that risk that we could lose everything. We could go — you know, there’s bankruptcy. There’s all these things that can happen to a small business. I am able to sit with uncertainty to a certain extent. But, having a daughter, an eight-year-old. This is how I support my daughter. So, that adds a whole level of stress.

Tina Stroh, Owner, Just Plain Yoga

Tina Stroh, Owner, Just Plain Yoga

Good morning. It is Wednesday — what is it? May 6th. And I’m just getting up in the morning. So, Kerry has been getting her class and helping people to get centered. Let’s just take a few cleansing breaths. I think what’s most rewarding for me to see during these meetings that people are chatting with each other, connecting with other. Connection is key right now. Staying connected with the community, with each other.  I have learned that the studio can’t reopen until we’re in the green phase and I have no idea what that’s gonna look like. Also, are we gonna have to have our mats six feet apart? We did just map that out, so it reduces our class sizes significantly. So, that’s gonna be a challenge. We will be able to maintain a brick and mortar? I don’t know. So, we’re just taking it one at a time and enjoying each other’s company. We’ve been around for quite awhile. But we’ve never experienced anything like this as I’m sure nobody else has. As a small business owner and an entrepreneur, one of things that we’re good at is risk and uncertainty. This level of uncertainty is a completely different uncertainty.  We were reduced to 50%. So, the classrooms that could fit about 25-30 people were reduced to 12. So, that we could six-foot distance, fit a camera, fit a teacher. And we’re still at that. It’s still a situation where the planning is — it’s so tenuous because we don’t know whether we’re gonna have to shut down again. Hopefully not. I feel like I’m being a realistic in just sitting patiently to see how this all unfolds. And just continuing to do what we do at the studio and trying to shift our services so that we’re serving the community in the way that we need. The small business community, we really bonded during this time. And we would text back and forth. And how are you doing? How are you holding up? And we’re still doing that. And that is incredibly valuable. What this period of time did was it made me reflect on how I spend my time. How I expend my energy. And who are the people that are important? How do I spend my time with my daughter? All of these things became much more clear. So, there were blessings that came out of this.

Hi. I am Tammy novice. And I teach fourth grade. I’ve been teaching for 30 years.

Tammy, how is it going teaching online?

I have to say in my 30 years of teaching, I never thought I would go to remote learning. All right. So, I’m gonna share my screen. It’s more difficult because I really feel the boundaries are blurred. For the first, I’d say at least the first two to three weeks, I felt like I was like basically on-call all the time because I was trying to check my email even in the evenings. Because a lot of times that’s when the kids could do their work. So, about to start my zoom meeting with them. And I usually start about five minutes early because the kids are waiting to get in. Hi! Good morning! How was your weekend?

Good morning. Good. How was yours?

Good! We’re gonna be playing a game. I’ll start. And I will say, let’s see. I’ll say good morning pierce. It’s really really hard to know whether they’re understanding something when you can’t see their faces. You can’t see their eyes. Especially for those kiddos who struggle. I really think that this experience has allowed us to show the kids and to show them that we don’t know what’s gonna happen. We can’t control our surroundings. We can’t control our situation. But that we can control how we react to it. And that we need to make the best of every situation and stay positive. And embrace the changes and give it our best. This time last year I was very stressed. I was teaching completely online. I was learning how to do zoom. I was learning how to communicate with the students online. How to post assignments, how to grade assignments, how to give the students feedback. We started actually face-to-face five days a week at the beginning of September. My biggest concern when we came back was safety. Safety for everyone. For the kids, for me. It was really just making sure that we followed all the protocols that were put in place. They adjusted very well to all the new routines. The desks were six feet apart. We washed our hands three and four times a day. We used hand sanitizer in between. I mean, I wrote all that literally into the schedule so I wouldn’t forget. It’s really just a normal part of their routine now. They don’t even think about it. Now, I’m completely face-to-face. My stress level is much, much lower because I’m doing what I’ve been doing for the last 31 years. I love teaching face-to-face. I do a lot of singing. I do a lot of dancing. I do a lot of acting out. You can’t do that on zoom. The biggest difference was that I was able to give feedback so much more easily. I could really tell if a student is struggling or doesn’t understand something. And they can ask a question right away. And right now, we’re doing science and they’re doing electricity and magnetism. And today we were testing insulators and conductors. And they were loving it. They’re like “look! This worked! I didn’t think it would work! This is so cool! I mean, that’s-that’s why you teach. One of the things that I think really have come out of this year is how close I’ve gotten to my students. I feel like I really know them well. They don’t leave my presence for like the entire day except for the 30 minutes of lunch. So, that part I hope can continue. And I think one of the other things is just taking the time. And I think that COVID has kind of forced me to remember that they’re children. And that every family’s different outside of school too. I feel like I always have, but I think this year more so than any other year, there’s been a lot of outside factors that you need to consider. So, I think I’ve slowed down a little bit more and taken more time for that aspect of it.

Hi. I’m Dr. Pam Tefford-Deal. I am the medical director of the hospitalists team at WellSpan Ephrata community hospital.

Take me back to a time when you first heard about COVID-19.

In the beginning of the crisis, we were on a learning curve, and we were trying to understand what things would look like. Would we get more patients? How sick would they be? Would we have the resources to take care of them?

Pamela Taffera-Deihl, DO, Wellspan Ephrata Community Hospital

Pamela Taffera-Deihl, DO, Wellspan Ephrata Community Hospital

Good morning. I’m headed into work. It’s an absolutely gorgeous day. The sun is shining. Gonna get in here and start the day. I’ve got my mask ready. Doing some rounds on our patients today. And I know that I’m going to have to go see one of our patients with COVID. So, I’m hoping that he’s doing well this morning. And I’ll need to put on all my gear after I check in with the team. All right. Here we go.  Ah, I’m sweating already. All right. In I go.  Today’s one of those days where I’m trying to balance being a mom and a doc and do a good job at both of them. So, I’m taking a break from rounds to go ahead and join in my son’s preschool zoom meeting. I know we all have to stay home right now. And that’s not been very fun. But remember. If we stay home, we stay healthy. Good morning. Getting ready to head into work for a regular day at the hospital. But, a regular day at the hospital could mean a whole lot of things. Kids aren’t awake yet, but we’re expecting them any moment. So, heading to the hospital where we know that there’s been a recent uptick in our number of COVID patients. Folks have just kind of gotten a little too lax. So, that’s giving healthcare providers quite a bit of angst. Myself included. So, I know the census is high at the hospital. I know the percentage of those patients that have COVID is a little bit unnerving. So, with that we want to make sure we have enough protective — hi! Here’s one of the munchkins. Good morning. How are you? Mommy has to go to work today, okay? But then I’ll be back as soon as I can. All right. Off to work we go.

What are your concerns about COVID-19 right now in this moment?

If we do not continue social distancing, hand hygiene, and very, very, very importantly, the masking; we’re going to continue to see this increase. And we’ll see an increase in mortality as well. I think that it’s been an incredibly emotional year. More than a year, for everyone around the world. Actually, I was just five minutes late for our interview because I was admitting another COVID patient. Probably the most concerning thing that is happening right now with the pandemic is that the folks that we are admitting in this wave are a lot different than the first waves. This wave has brought younger patients who are healthy without medical problems. We’re tired. You know, our frontline staff are tired. Our nurses are tired. Our docs and our respiratory therapists, our pharmacists, everybody. It’s been a very trying year. My children’s nanny had received her first vaccine. After she got her first vaccine, a few days later she said gosh, I just feel lousy. And wouldn’t you know that my nanny was COVID positive. So, suddenly I needed to be at work taking care of patients and taking care of logistics for the health system and all three kids are quarantined in the house. And we were so frustrated. Plans were cancelled. I looked at it and I said you know; this isn’t a problem. This is an inconvenience. And I’ve got three healthy kids and my nanny is recovering. My house looks like a tornado went through it, but we’re all healthy. And I thank God for that because there are so many families across the country and across the world who can’t say that. There’s just the loss of life has been immense. There’s nothing more important than people’s health at this time. I think that if we all really focus on that then we can get back to what we feel as a sense of normalcy a whole lot sooner. So, we’re just asking everyone to be really diligent. Wear your mask. Stay six feet apart. Don’t have large social gatherings. And you know, do everything we can because we haven’t beat this yet.

I’d like to thank all our video diary participants for sharing their stories. We hope that they’ve provided you with a feeling of connection during this time. Please join us next time as we continue to share stories and transform health. I’m Keira McGuire. Thanks for watching.

Announcer: Today, healthcare is about empowering people to take control of their health. Whether creating a fitness routine, choosing the right procedures or medications, or adhering to treatment for a chronic condition. Capital BlueCross, dedicated to underwriting “Transforming Health” for the good health of the community.

WellSpan Health. Helping patients reaching their health goals through a coordinated system of physicians, hospitals, and convenient healthcare services in communities across central Pennsylvania. Learn more at wellspan.org. WellSpan Health. For the journey that is life. Support also comes from viewers like you. Thank you.

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Keira McGuire
Keira McGuire/WITF

Keira McGuire is a health reporter and multimedia producer for WITF. She hosts and produces Transforming Health television programs as well as other shows and documentaries for WITF’s Original Productions. McGuire produced the Emmy Award winning series HealthSmart for the last ten years. Keira previously worked at WBFF in Baltimore and WMDT in Salisbury as a reporter and anchor. She’s a graduate of Towson University.

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