MURRAY, Utah (ABC4 News) – As COVID-19 hit the United States, the world watched as New York’s healthcare system quickly became overwhelmed. Some Utah healthcare workers dropped everything and rushed to their aid. A year later, they reflect on that experience and the valuable information learned as they returned home to the beginning of Utah’s own crisis with the pandemic.
Intermountain Healthcare sent 100 employees to the state in distress. Dr. Jarid Gray, a hospitalist, along with Dr. Dixie Harris, a critical care and pulmonary physician, were among those who went.
Harris remembers the time she spent in New York’s overcrowded Southside Hospital, seeing a high rate of death.
“It was very dark as for what we saw in New York,” Harris said. “We had very few patients survive that were in the ICU on the ventilator at the very beginning.”
The virus’ toll on human life, highlighted its devastation.
“It’s almost like what you would expect in a warzone,” Gray said. “When we were there, there was 640 or 650 patients in the hospital and almost every single one of them had COVID.”
Gray was assigned to work at Long Island Jewish Medical Center, where his experience was more than he expected.
“It was devastating – not necessarily to just one individual, but to a whole community,” Gray said.
He recounts watching the burnout of New York healthcare workers.
“Physicians and nurses had been dealing with it two to three weeks before we got there. And they were just whipped,” he said.
Only a two-week stay in New York, Harris and Gray returned home with 98 other healthcare workers – just ahead of the calamity that would strike the state.
“We were able to sound the alarm and get people ready. So, we did not see anything like what they had experience in New York,” Harris said. “So, we’re very grateful.”
“We never saw anything after that point where the nurses and physicians and hospital beds were completely overrun,” Gray said.
Their experience in New York would prove critical to efforts in Utah.
“Probably the biggest thing we learned is the people that care for patients are the most important,” Harris said. “Because frankly, most of the medications we were using turned out to not be effective. It’s the supportive care, it’s the nursing care, it’s the respiratory care.”
“The most important thing I found, is we just needed time so we could get ahead of this monster,” Gray said.
As of Thursday, the virus has claimed the lives of 15,554 Utahns, according to the Utah Department of Health. New York reporting nearly 50,000 deaths.
“We had some rough times in November, December, January, were very dire times but nothing like what we had in New York,” Harris said.
The height of the pandemic has settled. But now, doctors are trying to understand long-term side effects of COVID-19.
“The vaccine seems to be mitigating some of these long-term effects – which is interesting,” Harris said. “We still have so much to learn about the immune system and how the body has responded to the COVID virus.”
Harris and Gray said vaccination efforts are proving important in the fight against the virus.
“We have a window of opportunity to really make a difference of what next winter looks like. And simply, it’s how many people are willing to get vaccinated,” Gray said.