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Wisconsin nurse describes coronavirus surge, emotional toll of pandemic

APPLETON, Wis. — The coronavirus entered Katie Harris’s life innocently: as a trivia question. 

What was the name of the virus that had just begun to hit the United States? She and her longtime best friend, who had both recently relocated to Arizona to work as travel nurses, didn’t know the answer. 

Now, she knows all too well. 

Harris returned to Wisconsin’s Fox Valley in May and picked back up at ThedaCare, where she started her nursing career three years prior. When she left Arizona, she knew COVID-19 was here to stay — but during the summer, ThedaCare, like hospitals around the state, saw a lull in patients. At the end of August, fewer than 300 people across Wisconsin were hospitalized with the virus. 

But by early fall, a surge in cases was stressing hospitals in the the state. Today, nearly 2,000 COVID-19 patients are in hospitals.

ThedaCare hospitals have fluctuated between 90 and 100% capacity in recent weeks. One official said in four decades on the job, he’d never seen patient volumes as high. 

Medical experts are begged people to stay at home for the Thanksgiving holiday, but Harris said she and her coworkers on one of the COVID-19 units in Appleton, Wis. already know what’s going to happen. 




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