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In Detroit, Over 2,600 Health Care Workers Have Gotten Sick From The Coronavirus


More than 2,600 health care workers in Detroit have been infected with the coronavirus. And to help out, hundreds of doctors and nurses are being redeployed, and many are doing work they have never done before. As Michigan Radio's Kate Wells reports, staffers who've recovered from the virus are returning to work knowing some co-workers weren't as fortunate.

KATE WELLS, BYLINE: Cyndi Engelhardt (ph) woke up at 5 a.m. one morning last month, and she just knew that she was sick. She took her temperature, and, yep, there it was; 102.

CYNDI ENGELHARDT: I went back to my bed, and I just put my head into my hands. And I was crying and thinking, how am I supposed to help everybody when I'm stuck at home?

WELLS: Engelhardt works at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit. She's an assistant clinical manager at an intensive care unit, and that is where she had been caring for COVID patients. Two days later, a test confirmed that she was, in fact, positive. And about the same time, Dr. Lamont Jones also started having symptoms. He's an ear, nose and throat doctor also at Henry Ford. And his wife, who is also a doctor, had just tested positive, so they brought their daughters - ages 10 and 14 - into the room to break the news.

LAMONT JONES: That their mom had tested positive, that I had gotten tested and it's likely that I would be positive, so it was a pretty real conversation. You know, one of my daughters did start crying afterwards.

WELLS: When Jones's tests also came back positive, he joined a growing club - health care workers in the Detroit area who have contracted COVID. Actually, nobody knows how many because some hospitals aren't collecting or sharing that data. But we do know that more than 2,600 health care workers in the area have either been out sick with COVID-like symptoms or tested positive. In the meantime, hundreds of people, like Heather Haener-Svoboda (ph), are being redeployed.

HEATHER HAENER-SVOBODA: It's a hospital I've never been at on a unit I've never been on on a shift that I never work.

WELLS: Haener-Svoboda is a nurse who has not done this kind of patient care in 20 years. Until now, she had an office job at Beaumont Health. But now she's doing night shifts caring for COVID patients.

HAENER-SVOBODA: And they're so scared. You really feel for them. We're doing the best we can to take care of them and keep them comforted and encourage them and holding their hand. And you just really feel like you're doing something important.

WELLS: It is especially important in a city and a state that's been so hard-hit by this virus. At least seven health care workers in Michigan have died. That includes a nurse at Henry Ford Hospital, where Cyndi Engelhardt works.

ENGELHARDT: You see that, and you think, why was I OK? And I had some survivor's guilt with that.

HAENER-SVOBODA: Engelhardt spent 14 long, frustrating days stuck at home. But like the vast majority of health care workers who get COVID, including Dr. Lamont Jones and his wife, she recovered, and she is back at work. Her co-workers have experienced so much pain, despair and death, she says, that she's still struggling with that guilt. But she also feels like her illness has done one good thing.

ENGELHARDT: Me coming back and showing them that, look; I'm good. I'm OK. I'm - you know, I'm healthy. I have energy, and I'm right back here to help you guys. I think that just gave them a little relief that if I do contract it, this doesn't mean death.

WELLS: For NPR News, I'm Kate Wells.

(SOUNDBITE OF EVOLUTION OF STARS' "PRETENDING") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Kate Wells
Kate Wells is a Peabody Award-winning journalist and co-host of the Michigan Radio and NPR podcast Believed. The series was widely ranked among the best of the year, drawing millions of downloads and numerous awards. She and co-host Lindsey Smith received the prestigious Livingston Award for Young Journalists. Judges described their work as "a haunting and multifaceted account of U.S.A. Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar’s belated arrest and an intimate look at how an army of women – a detective, a prosecutor and survivors – brought down the serial sex offender."