By Onz Chery | onz@haitiantimes.com

On Day 288 of the country’s war against the novel coronavirus, Pauline Louis-Magiste stood in the “green zone” of Mount Sinai Medical Center in Miami Beach to gear up. Face shield over her two face masks. Check. Protective gown, shoe covers and gloves. Check, check, check. Onward to the frontline.  

It was November at the time, and Louis-Magiste was feeling optimistic about treating patients and seeing more of them walk out of the hospital.

“One of the best feelings in the world is when they give you a sick patient who can barely walk, talk and breathe and at the end of your shift that person is able to sit up, talk and eat,” said Louis-Magiste, Haitian-American Nurses Association of Florida’s president.

But then more patients came, and they haven’t stopped coming.

Christmas passed by, New Year’s passed by, Valentine’s Day, and the battles against COVID-19 continue on. The U.S. is now on Day 414 of their war against COVID-19 — counting from when the country registered its first case in January 2020.

The numbers of COVID-19 patients have fallen considerably and healthcare workers are better equipped now to deal with the influx compared to those first dark days of the pandemic. However, there’s still more work than many workers can handle. And although the battle seems endless and grueling, leaving in the middle of it isn’t an option, healthcare workers said.

“I’m in it ‘til death do us part,” said registered nurse Rosaly Denis, who works at a Care One Rehab Center, in Cresskill, New Jersey. “I don’t think I’ll ever be tired of COVID-19 to tell the truth.” 

Health workers feel more in control

In April 2020, as the U.S. approached a daily death rate of about 2,000 people, the country went into rolling lockdown starting with mainly cities and states on both coasts. Hospitals were so above capacity that many non-COVID floors turned into COVID departments. Images abound tents set up on hospital grounds to serve as makeshift morgues.

Healthcare workers, many of them dealing with ill family members and friends of their own, felt overwhelmed and underprepared.

“For the first time in my nursing career, I felt helpless taking care of a patient,” said Louis-Magiste, referring to her first COVID patient who died in March 2020. “Some of the doctors I have the utmost respect for just stood there and were like, ‘What do we do?’”

A year later, health officials “feel more in control,” Louis-Magiste added. Health departments have developed treatments for the virus like Monoclonal Antibodies, which was authorized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in November. Personal Protective Equipment, or PPE, such as face shields, N-95 masks and goggles are more available. And most encouraging, three vaccines — the Pfizer-BioNTech, the Moderna two-shot vaccines and the Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen single-shot vaccine — have been authorized.

Louis-Magiste received the two-doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine at the beginning of February. 

“I do feel a little safer,” she said. “The vaccine is not 100 percent. I’m still wearing my mask whenever I’m around people, whenever I go out. I still practice social distancing as much as I can, especially if I’m around people who weren’t vaccinated yet. Can I still get the virus? Yes.”

Non-compliance, anti-vaccination sentiments make the work harder

Even with the advent of the vaccines, there’s a downside, many healthcare workers say. More people have been holding large gatherings, breaking the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines. Although the U.S. has a daily death rate of about 1,600 residents, states like Wyoming, Mississippi and Texas lifted the mask mandate.

Healthcare workers are concerned because they deal with the consequences firsthand. 

“It’s frustrating, we’re putting our hearts, our lives on the line and to see people not following through,” said Denis, Haitian Nurses Network’s Upstate New York Ambassador. “This could’ve probably been done a long time ago but the fact that people are still hard-headed and negligent, that’s frustrating.”

Not only do some people in the Haitian-American community not follow the CDC guidelines, it’s not uncommon for those who take the vaccine to be criticized, healthcare workers said.

Marie Deolall, an award-winning nurse’s aide in Brooklyn, was vaccinated in late February, and was instantly condemned.

“My Haitian friend from Florida sent me a video that said the vaccine can’t do anything for me, that I can get sick,” Deolall said. “Why should I worry, if the president [Biden] himself got vaccinated?”

Despite the initial fears and conspiracy theories, more people are moving toward inoculation. After Deolall took her shots, her 101-year-old patient, Suzette Marcelin, became less reluctant and took the first dose on Friday. Members of Marcelin’s and Deolall’s household have also scheduled vaccine appointments.  

Nurse’s aide Marie Deolall inspired her 101-year-old patient to take the COVID-19 vaccine after she herself took the first dose. Photo by Paul Stremple for The Haitian Times

Even after Deolall and her patient were vaccinated, she still doesn’t travel via public transportation but instead takes a Lyft to work, the grocery store and other establishments. She also goes through the same cleaning routine with Lysol everyday. 

Deolall is willing to live with the restrictions and extra cleaning routine until the pandemic is over.

“When I see zero percent cases, that’s when I know I’ll be free,” Deolall said. “We made it get this bad. Maybe it will be over this year or next year. I’m going to carry on until whenever they say “No masks!’”

Email me at onz@haitiantimes.com
Onz Chery started his journalism career as a City College of New York student with The Campus. He later wrote for First Touch, local soccer leagues in New York and ESNY before joining The Haitian Times. Onz is also a Report for America corps member.

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