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An inside look at what it's like for healthcare workers during coronavirus pandemic

As California braces for the peak outbreak of the novel coronavirus, a soldier-like camaraderie is part of how hospital staff are not just coping, but preparing.

SACRAMENTO COUNTY, Calif. — As California shelters in place, the state's medical workers are preparing for a battle like nothing they've seen before.

"We're like the soldiers on the boats, getting ready to storm the beaches of Normandy. We feel the waves... but we're not on the beaches yet," said Francisco Guzman, a nurse practitioner at the Woodland branch of Dignity Health. "But in two to three weeks, we could be on those beaches."

Nearly 9,200 people in California have tested positive for COVID-19, and 203 people have died from the virus, according to state health officials. The number of cases are only expected to rise as the state has 59,500 tests pending inside of commercial, state and private labs. The state has so far tested 92,500 people.

As California braces for the peak outbreak of COVID-19, a soldier-like camaraderie is part of how hospital staff are not just coping, but preparing.

"Before we were just coming to work... but now we're seeing the pandemic and becoming a band of brothers and sisters who are ready for battle," said Guzman.

Placerville's Marshall Hospital is experiencing a similar atmosphere inside the hospital. Assistant Director of the Emergency Room, Shane Torgerson MD, said it's helping create a stronger bond than what he's seen before.

"There's a sense of spirit within the staff that's better than it would've been without these trying times, building us together as a stronger unit," said Torgerson.


But anxiety is still building.

While every medical professional has their own unique way of de-stressing — Torgerson spends time with his family outdoors, Guzman rocks out in his car to music — it's difficult to let go of that anxiety as the peak of COVID-19 is expected to hit California in the coming weeks.

In New York, more than 92,380 people have tested positive for the virus, more than half of which have come from New York City. Nearly 2,500 people have died from the virus in New York.

The state is the country's epicenter for the outbreak, and it has healthcare workers in California worried if that could be an outcome here.

"I think it's becoming very real for us after seeing what happened in New York, a lot of us are going to be confronted with co-workers dying, family dying," said Oakland Highland Hospital Nurse John Pearson. "I certainly don't want to die early."

Getting sick themselves as well as bringing the virus home to family is a major concern for medical workers. So far, 138 healthcare workers have tested positive in California.

That's why having proper protective gear is essential, something all the healthcare workers ABC10 spoke with said has been an issue. Many have had to take matters into their own hands.


When Pearson and his colleagues realized the severity of COVID-19, concern grew around the hospital not having enough personal protection equipment. That's why they started a fundraiser, raising $50,000 thus far.

"We researched [equipment] and then found some in the dark corners of the internet from legitimate suppliers and bought them," said Pearson.

Dr. Torgerson's sister even helped rally the Placerville community, helping get masks and other essential supplies donated from places like schools and Home Depot.

"We definitely had a significant deficit which was concerning," said Torgerson. "Fortunately the community here is really rallying around the hospital... So, it has made a huge difference. We have so many needs which my sister is working on aggressively, which is nice."

While there is still concern around equipment, an honorable mentality has set in among professionals on the front lines: caring for others is the reason they chose this line of work.

"I trained my whole life to be in this position and that's to help people," said Guzman.

Follow the conversation on Facebook with Andie Judson.


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WATCH MORE: Extended Interview: Sacramento County Public Health official Dr. Peter Beilenson talks coronavirus

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