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Health Care Workers ‘Hanging in’ Amid 2nd Wave

Two medical lab technologists at Cape Regional Medical Center collected samples for COVID-19 testing. Hospital staff wear protective equipment to limit their exposure to the virus.

By Karen Knight

COURT HOUSE – The medical professionals working with the public during the second wave of COVID-19 infections are doing what they can to manage their stress, according to Dr. John Ruskey, medical director of Cape Regional Medical Center’s (CRMC) three urgent care facilities. 

He said the staff, including those who work in the emergency room at CRMC, hit their peak of stress around July 4.  

“While it’s very challenging today, we are not quite as busy,” he noted. “I do think we are in for a few tough weeks ahead of us, though. 

“I think everyone has had it with 2020,” he added. “The COVID vaccine is promising. It’s very important psychologically, like the light at the end of the tunnel.  

“From conversations I have had with other doctors, the vaccine could be approved by mid-December, which would be great news. If it’s available as soon as December or January, I’ll be rolling up my sleeves and be one of the first ones to get it.  

“I think the drug companies have gone through the proper channels and done their due diligence, and I am not concerned about being one of the first to receive the vaccine, he continued. 

Ruskey said the medical staff, which he called “unsung heroes,” learned how to better treat the virus and what personal protective equipment (PPE) should be worn, having gained a track record from treating it over the past nine months. 

“I think the big difference between now and the spring is that in early spring, no one knew much about the virus,” the doctor said. “We went from an era of not knowing to being better able to protect ourselves and treat our patients, and to keep safe.” 

At CRMC this spring, Ruskey said they converted eight rooms with special ventilation to handle COVID-19 patients. 

“Overall, after dealing with this for nine months, there are new therapies, steroids, and anti-virals to treat COVID patients,” he noted. “The work being done by our staff is very important, but it’s stressful. They are hanging in there, and I believe we will succeed.” 

Like many others in the medical field, Ruskey lived apart from his family at the beginning of the pandemic to limit their exposure. As a doctor with 30 years of experience in the emergency room, he said the COVID-19 pandemic is the biggest challenge he’s seen. He is quick to point out, however, that the staff has “risen” to the challenge. 

“I am deeply aware of how much this county and its businesses depend on tourism,” Ruskey said, “and I believe we met the challenge this summer of keeping the virus contained as much as we could.  

“We were able to work with local businesses to get their staff tested quickly if there was exposure, so they could minimize the impact and stay open as much as possible. I think our staff’s responses had a real effect on our economy.” 

He recalled that Cape May County had the lowest number of cases and deaths in the state during the spring, and he credits his staff for achieving that. 

“Every day, our staff is interacting with the public, giving them important and correct information, and testing them,” Ruskey said. “There is a lot of incorrect information out there, and we couldn’t do as much testing as we are without them (staff).” 

At the Cape Regional Urgent Care, in Marmora, Ruskey said the number of patients they have seen is up 400%, about 120-130 weekly. The urgent care, in Wildwood, is up 200%, with 80-100 patients weekly, and the Court House location is up 100%, with about 100 patients weekly; 70% to 80% of the increase is due to COVID-19. 

“I can’t explain why there is a second surge of cases within the county now, but it was expected,” he said. “I think people are letting their guard down. There is COVID fatigue. 

“We know, for a fact, that wearing a face mask indoors and washing your hands often helps,” the doctor said. “The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) has said ‘contact’ is defined as being within 6 feet 15 minutes continuously, or in combination over 24 hours with someone infected with COVID-19. 

“Be around people you know and of which you know their habits. Doing these things will significantly improve your odds of not getting it,” he said. 

Within the county, Ruskey said the virus is hitting people of all ages, although he has not seen many children with it. 

“In the beginning, we saw an outpouring of gratitude from people in the community toward our staff, and it was very uplifting for everyone,” he noted. “I think we’ve seen this wane, as well. 

“I would ask that people be more understanding and patient when interacting with our staff,” Ruskey said. “They are coming to work every day and putting their health and welfare on the line, and their families’. There are limits to how much we can do, but what we are doing is what we can do, while caring for our staff and keeping them safe. 

“I know they are hanging in there, and we will succeed,” he added. 

To contact Karen Knight, email kknight@cmcherald.com. 

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