Health care workers still fighting COVID-19


By Julia Capitelli,
North Shore High School and

Tneil Gooden
Leon M. Goldstein High School for the Sciences

Jessica Mongelli, a critical care nurse at Northwell Health Hospital in Lake Success, was dispatched to the front lines of the war against COVID-19 when the pandemic hit the New York area early last year.

Jessica Mongelli and other nurses at Northwell Heath Hospital in Lake Success were on the front lines during the COVID-19 crisis (Photo courtesy of Jessica Mongelli)

 “We were the first team that cared for the sickest people in our tri-state area.” she said.

From working directly with COVID patients to seeing the effect COVID had on the hospital’s atmosphere, medical workers were tested in every way possible.  

“Being a critical care nurse is really stressful, it requires a mindset where we have to be extremely empathetic but be brave enough to disconnect ourselves because it is the worst time of a family’s life that you are participating in,” she said. “When we were put into the pandemic it was this situation but on steroids.”

The COVID crisis caused a lot of sadness and distrust in where the world was heading.

“When I was caring for a really young patient in his 20s, I lost faith,” Mongelli said. “I felt like we couldn’t save any of these patients. I cried hysterically during a group huddle and I am usually really optimistic.” 

Aside from the mental health aspect, lack of equipment was also a challenge.

“There were so many changes in the hospital due to COVID,” said Sasha McKenzie, a medical assistant at Mount Sinai Hospital in Jupiter, Florida. “If we were caring for a patient that had tuberculosis every time we would go into the patient’s room and put on a set of PPE (personal protective equipment), once we came out of the room all that would be discarded.”

She added: “Post COVID, we were literally saving everything possible, PPE’s were being used for the entire day versus a one time entrance into a patient’s room.” There was a limited amount of equipment available due to the high demand for them. 

There was also a drastic change in direction in the hospital system because COVID patients became the top priority.

“All hands in every area were on deck,” said Nick Pertoso, a hospital administrator at Montefiore Medical Center in New York. “Separate COVID units were created to handle the influx of people. No surgeries were being done, only COVID. Staff were coming from other facilities just to help out.” 

Dr. Andrew Wackett, far right, and some of his fellow first responders. (Courtesy of Dr. Andrew Wackett)

People were taken out of their fields and thrown into COVID scene in such a haste that COVID became the main aspect of the hospital. 

Stony Brook University medical students were not immediately deployed — but they sprang into action when they got the call.

“When it first started, we actually had to suspend our medical students from their clinical rotations.” Dr. Andrew Wackett, Vice Dean of Undergraduate Medical Education said. “The reason for it was mainly because of the lack of PPE.” 

This was just another obstacle to overcome. 

“A lot of it came from the N95 masks, those are very special filtered masks,” Dr. Wackett added. “In the past we would use those masks for other airborne diseases, Tuberculosis is one, measles, but these diseases we don’t see all that frequently, so the amount of masks that healthcare requires for this is very limited.” 

Eventually, they were able to obtain more equipment and personnel.

 “When we brought [the students] back, the pandemic was still going strong so they actually still had a lot of opportunities to take care of patients also.” Wackett added.

With all of the changes that COVID has forced in both the medical field and the world in general, the question becomes whether we will return to pre-pandemic conditions.

“I do not think that normal is possible post-pandemic,” McKenzie said. “A lot of individuals are now scared and possibly paranoid.”

Unfortunately, COVID’s effects are long lasting.

While we may not be able to return to what “normal” was prior to the pandemic, some lessons were learned. The magnitude and gravity of the event are impossible to ignore. The medical community and world as a whole were faced with the unexpected. Healthcare workers’ perseverance has gotten the world back to a new normal. 

“It opened up the eyes that there needs to be more interest placed in public health,” McKenzie said.