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Who the real heroes are

The real heroes are the health care personnel and first responders. They are the front line defending us from this scourge. They are working day and night. They are heroes.

Yes, those working in health care and as first responders today are working to save lives. Putting in extra hours and putting themselves and their families at personal risk to help save lives. They are heroes. But key is that they are helping to save lives. They are not the front line – they are the last line.

YOU are the front line. YOU are the one who can defend us from this scourge.

For weeks now, we have been hearing about social distancing, washing hands, wearing masks. Our governor has issued a “stay-at-home” order closing all but essential businesses. For days now we have also had people who do not believe this is a problem. They say, “It’s just the flu. If I get it I might get sick but it’s just the flu. I’m not over 60 so I don’t need to worry. I haven’t traveled out of the state, so I won’t get it. Everyone will get it, we just need to ride it out. It’s all political. It’s not real.” Because of this erroneous thinking, people are not following the basic rules.

West Virginia was the last state to report cases of COVID-19. There were jokes going around that since the March Madness tournament was canceled, we would have a March Illness tournament where the states reporting cases were in competition with each other. It turned out that West Virginia was the winner — the last to report a case.

Thus, many people in the state are thinking that it won’t affect us much. “We have an immunity because of our mountains.” “We have been social distancing since 1863.”

So many have gone about their routines and are upset because their favorite restaurant or bar isn’t open. While it is all good and well to find things to laugh about in difficult situations, understand that it’s about to get real for us, seriously real.

Because West Virginia was the last state to report, we will be later in reaching the peak of the problem. Indications are that we will hit the peak in late April or early May. Some of the very things that make us unique also make us vulnerable.

West Virginia has the highest risk population because of the overall age. We have a good health care system but, in some areas, it is more accessible than in others. When your access consists of a critical access hospital with 25 or fewer beds and no critical care ability and the nearest critical care facility is 70 miles away, there is an issue.

Having been a critical care nurse for 45 years, I understand what those heroes we mentioned are facing, why they are scrambling to find ventilators, asking for personal protective equipment (PPE), and worried about staffing. Because I am worried, too.

Never did I ever think that a hospital would need to conserve PPE. Never did I ever think that staff would be told to bring in bandanas and scarves since masks are in short supply. Never did I ever think I would be making masks to help bolster supplies. Never did I ever think that we would have patients in critical care who cannot have any visitors – no family to hold their hand or reassure them. Never did I ever think that choices would have to be made on who gets life-saving equipment and who doesn’t.

But here we are.

The numbers are showing we are making a real difference. But how real depends not on our heroes, but on you. Follow the guidelines issued, take it seriously. Stay home, use pick-up if you can for food and supplies, wear a mask if you must go out, wash your hands with soap and water and use hand sanitizer if necessary, maintain 6 feet distance, don’t touch your face. All these things make YOU the hero. Protecting your self and your family from a disease that at this point doesn’t have a cure or a vaccine. You are the front line of defense.

— Mary G. McKinley, RN, MSN, CCRN, is a critical care nurse and is the spouse of Congressman David B. McKinley, P.E., D-First District, and is a member of the Congressional Families Cancer Prevention Program of the Prevent Cancer Foundation. Statistics provided by the Prevent Cancer Foundation, American Cancer Society and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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