“You may have just that one patient with the coronavirus that come into your facility, and you don’t know. I can go to work today, wind up feeding them. And then find out two hours later, ‘Oh, they have that virus.’ And I’ve already been exposed. Nursing Assistants, CNA’s, we’re the closest ones, we’re the front line.” The work of nursing assistants has always been difficult and low paying. But add coronavirus, and it’s become dangerous. TV announcers: “Across the country, nursing homes are especially vulnerable —” “One elder care facility, where 19 residents have died —” “In Palo Alto —” “In the New Orleans area —” “In DuPage County —” “In Sacramento County.” “Covid-19 spreading through our most vulnerable population.” We met up with caregivers from nursing homes in Northern California. They attend to the kind of patients who are most likely to die if they get the virus. “So can you do your job without touching people, or without —” “It’s impossible. Everything is touch.” “Bathing. Feeding.” “Assist them to the restroom.” “Brushing their teeth.” “Turning.” “It’s almost like a holding and cleaning at the same time.” “Helping nurses with wound care.” “Cleaning their ears, tying their shoes.” “We do everything.” “Well, you could be feeding that patient or you could be doing something and the patient starts coughing. It’s too late to turn around, you already done got crap all over you. You know, you just run to the bathroom, wash your face or whatever. And then go about your day. Social distance? Can’t do it. It’s impossible.” If this video were filmed at a different time, you’d be seeing footage of these workers with their patients. But nursing homes are closed to visitors right now to protect the people inside. Actually everything you’re seeing here we filmed from afar, following recommendations to slow the spread of Covid-19. But these caregivers can’t maintain that kind of distance in their work. And now, shortages of protective gear like masks are putting them at risk, not just for getting the virus but for spreading it. “If you want to speak, press star 6.” “We’re running out of supplies of masks in our building. And trying to take care of these patients without us also getting sick is worrisome.” “We’re rationing right now, masks, protective gear. But it’s like, what happens if we run out? It scares me.” “They gave us the N95 mask, and told us to maintain it. If the elastic comes off by accident or something, staple and reuse it.” “So you’re actually cleaning the N95 masks in between uses?” “Yeah, with — with alcohol.” “You like wipe off the outside of it or how do you do that?” “The outside, the inside and just let it air dry, and put it back in a Ziploc bag for the next day.” “A lot of people in this field, we have families. So you don’t want to take nothing home. My granddaughter, she’s special needs. So she has a low immune system. When she was born, she was really sick. So we’ve been cautious ever since she’s been born.” “I am very concerned of taking it home. My mom, she’s diabetic, and my dad also just beat cancer in the thyroid. I have asthma. So if I were to get Covid, It would affect my lungs. And how am I going to pay my bills? Because it’s paycheck to paycheck, what I’m doing.” The pay for this work is low: In the U.S., the median salary is less than $30,000 a year. As a result, many nursing assistants work multiple jobs. And as they move between facilities, so can disease. “Usually when I finish the first job, I go right to the second job. I work 16 hours, that’s not including driving time. And I’m not the only one — majority of my co-workers, they work two jobs.” “I work home health care too, on top of taking care of my mom and my grandmother. I’m kind of worried because you don’t see the virus because they’re droplets, and you don’t know who’s coughing or sneezing on you. Even though I do try to sanitize, like along the way, going to my next client. But sometimes it’s just not enough I think. But who else is going to take care of them?”
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