Twenty-eight-year-old Brianna Alvarez begins her work day with a mandatory health screening. Hospital staff takes Alvarez’ temperature and makes sure she is not exhibiting symptoms for the coronavirus.
“From there I go up to the Surgical Services locker room and change out of my ‘street clothes’ into hospital-issued scrubs,” Alvarez said. “I tuck my hair into my scrub cap and put on shoes that have never seen the outside of the hospital. Everyone in the operating room does this to protect our patients from infection.”
Alvarez is an operating room nurse at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Egleston serving on the frontlines during the COVID-19 pandemic. Alvarez and her husband now live Atlanta, but less than a month ago they were living in Japan after relocating for his job.
As COVID-19 began to spread in the U.S., Alvarez knew there was only one place she wanted to be during a time like this- caring for the kids at Children’s alongside her second family.
“I couldn’t work as a nurse over there because I don’t speak enough Japanese to do patient care,” Alvarez said. “Then all of this started and I was on the other side of the planet doing something that didn’t use my nursing abilities at all. If things are going to be scary and challenging, I wanted to be helping people and I wanted to be home. Children’s is home for me.”
So earlier this month, Alvarez and her husband packed up and boarded a plane to return to Atlanta. After self-isolation to ensure she didn’t have any symptoms, Alvarez recently rejoined the Children’s team and said it’s been an uplifting experience during such a strange time.
Alvarez has been a nurse for five years and has spent the last three at Children’s. She graduated from the Georgia Baptist College of Nursing and started her career in the operating room at Dekalb Medical Center.
Back at Children’s, Alvarez says she brings patients back to the operating room, helps put them to sleep for surgery and ensures patient safety throughout the procedure.
“Ensuring safety can mean so many things—from counting surgical instruments, to keeping my team aware of patient allergies, to making sure we’re operating on the correct limb—safety is a big part of my work and I take it very seriously,” Alvarez said.
After each shift, Alvarez removes and disposes of anything that may have came into contact with a patient — scrubs, gloves, hospital shoes and any other protective gear. She washes her hands before leaving the hospital and again when she gets to her car.
In 2018 alone, Children’s managed more than one million patient visits and more than 43,000 surgical cases, inpatient and outpatient.
As of 5 p.m. April 3, DeKalb County has 448 cases of COVID-19 and eight deaths. Fulton county reports having 882 cases of COVID-19 and 23 deaths caused by the virus and Georgia has a total of 5,831 cases and 184 deaths from COVID-19.
“The closest thing I’ve experienced to the COVID-19 pandemic would be the Ebola outbreak a few years ago, but it doesn’t compare to the widespread impact we are seeing today across our state, nation and world,” Alvarez said. “Working at Children’s through this has been both intimidating and inspiring—serving on the front lines of a pandemic is pretty scary, but it helps that I’m surrounded by brilliant, dedicated teammates.”
Even before the first case of COVID-19 was confirmed in the U.S., Alvarez says Children’s has been planning and preparing for this situation. Within the hospital, staff has increased their cleaning and sanitization measures. Everyone who comes through the door is screened, and as this is a rapidly evolving situation, clinical leadership is regularly updating policies to reflect the latest guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization to protect Children’s employees, patients, physicians and visitors.
“Most hospitals have restricted all visitors but because our patient population is entirely children, our patients can have one family member at a time in the hospital,” Alvarez said. “Children’s has also postponed elective procedures and canceled non-urgent clinic visits.”
“Everyone please remember to wash your hands, don’t touch your face and practice social distancing,” Alvarez said. “Our Chief Medical Officer Dan Salinas, MD, recently gave the community some great advice: Stay calm, stay vigilant and stay home. The sooner everyone gets onboard with those guidelines, the sooner we can all go back to enjoying our lives and each other’s company again.”
Anyone interested in donating masks, protective gowns, disinfectant wipes, hand sanitizer and/or touchless thermometers, please reach out to Dave.Piotter@choa.org to share additional details around supplies and to coordinate any drop-offs.
Children’s recently launched a dedicated COVID-19 hotline to answer questions from Georgia’s families and providers, who can call 404-785-7955 seven days a week between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. to speak with one of their experts. Additional resources, including more about prevention and symptoms, can be found at choa.org/covid19.