Caregivers stand in front of protesters at the main entrance to the Arizona Capitol at a rally to 're-open' Arizona against the governor's stay-at-home order due to the coronavirus Monday, April 20, 2020, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
Nurse describes heated exchange with protesters wanting to reopen
01:46 - Source: CNN
CNN  — 

An ICU nurse who stood in defense of Arizona’s early stay-at-home order and other Covid-19 precautions now says she feels her profession is forgotten as crowds gather and her hospital reaches capacity.

“After Memorial Day weekend, we really felt things start to ramp up,” Lauren Leander told CNN on Thursday. “Now, we’re kind of at the point where we are stretched so thin, we are at the point of compromising patient safety.”

The US has seen a resurgence of coronavirus cases, with higher infection and hospitalization rates and many intensive care units reaching capacity. Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey acknowledged in a news conference Thursday that his state may have been “the front of that wave.”

Leander, a Banner Health nurse of five years, said her hospital has three coronavirus ICU’s completely full and ventilators down to single digits. And though she does not feel the support in her state that New York and New Jersey had at their peaks, Leander said residents can support hospital staff by wearing masks and distancing to curb the virus’ spread.

Since May, however, Leander has seen a noticeable shift in how seriously people are taking precautionary advice, she said.

“You know, it hurts. It hurts to feel forgotten by your own state and the people who were fighting for you when this thing first came about,” Leander said.

The palpable lack of caution comes as the staff goes months without seeing their own families to reduce the potential for virus spread and watches patients rapidly decline, she said.

In April, Leander had a female patient her age that she “performed CPR on and zipped into a body bag at the end of my shift.” Now, young and healthy patients getting extremely sick is much more familiar, she said.

After months of fighting the virus, her patients are stuck on breathing machines and their lungs show large amounts of scar tissue. Some are on permanent feeding tubes and malnourished. To a nurse like her, she said, their conditions are a fate worse than death.

“We thought this virus would play by the rules,” she said.

In April, Leander and some of her coworkers spent their day off in masks and clean scrubs, standing on the Capitol steps to silently face anti-lockdown protesters.

“I just hope people see that nurses are not the enemy, and we’ll take care of them one way or the other,” Leander said at the time. “I don’t care if you believe in this virus or not or truly what your opinion is of it, if these people show up in my ICU, we will take care of them one way or another.”

CNN’s Alisha Ebrahimji contributed to this report.