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Demand for nurses still high despite a plateau of COVID-19 cases

The Texas Nurses Association CEO said nurses are fatigued and more are contracting the virus.

AUSTIN, Texas — The demand for nurses is increasing as Texans continue to fill up those beds in Austin and across the state. And the head of the Texas Nurses Association, Cindy Zolneirek, also said we've been in a nursing shortage for awhile.

Locally, hospitals are doing what they can do ensure proper staffing:

  • Ascension Seton recently brought in 20 clinical staff members from other Acsension markets to help with the COVID-19 surge.
  • St. David's HealthCare also brought in extra staff from outside the area.
  • Baylor Scott and White couldn't provide details but said it is working to ensure adequate staffing.

The bottom line: Everyone in the medical community is keeping a close eye on the number of coronavirus cases to see what happens next.

In the meantime, Zolnierek has a warning.

"We are at the brink of overload right now," she said.

That's because despite the recent slowdown of COVID-19 cases in the Austin area, Zolnierek said this is not time to let down our guard. The situation can change in an instant.

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"We're very concerned about the shortage," she said.

Zolnierek said nurses have been working long hours and are just fatigued. Those long hours and exposure to COVID-19 patients have led to an increase in infections among nurses themselves.

"I talked to one emergency department nurse who indicated that 30% of the nurses on that unit were out either due to an exposure, they're being quarantined to make sure that there were negative or they were positive and needed to be quarantined to avoid infecting other patients. That has a tremendous impact on the availability of staff, especially as we're seeing emergency departments get busy again," she said. 

To help deal with the shortage, out-of-state staff members have been brought in to help.

Dr. John Zerwas, the vice chancellor for health affairs of the University of Texas System and current advisor to Gov. Greg Abbott, came on KVUE Midday to talk about it.

RELATED: Gov. Abbott adviser: Hospital capacity 'incredibly well,' but in need of testing reagents

"And so some of our workforce that we've brought in from outside of the state has actually put in place to help give some relief to the people that have been at the front lines for quite some time. That's a very, very effective thing," Dr. Zerwas said.

Zolnierek said right now, the need is for three types of nurses: critical care, acute and rehab. All three deal with COVID-19 patients.

Even as Austin Mayor Steve Adler asked for more nursing volunteers on social media, Zolnierek said that's not enough.

The community still needs to wear masks and practice social distancing to hopefully keep coronavirus cases down.

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