COVID Updates for Travel Nurses: March 3, 2021
The last two weeks of COVID tracking have been confusing with declining numbers of new cases and increased vaccine availability. But, experts are cautioning that we aren’t in the clear just yet.
Here’s what travel nurses need to know about the latest updates in the COVID-19 pandemic.
What’s Happening with COVID-19 Right Now
Following a 7-week decline, we have now reached a plateau in new COVID cases in the U.S. And while many of us were encouraged by the decline in the first place, it’s important that we don’t lose sight of the fact that even with the decline, the cases are still higher than they were in the first peak of the pandemic. In other words, that decline was in large part due to a drastic uptick in cases from over the holidays.
On March 2, CDC Director Director Rochelle Walensky also cautioned in a White House press briefing that the numbers from the previous 7 days show a slight increase in new cases–new cases and deaths rose about 2% higher than they were the week prior. Her words come on the heels of many states lifting COVID-19 restrictions, from Michigan, which doubled the allowed capacity of restaurants and resumed nursing home visitations, to Texas, which lifted its mask mandate and opened the state entirely.
Walensky expressed concern over states lifting restrictions, noting that the current 2,000 per day death rate should not be considered a new norm, and pointing out that the new variants now known to be circulating could threaten to undo all of the progress that’s been done so far.
“Please hear me clearly. At this level of cases with variants spreading, we stand to completely lose the hard-earned ground we have gained…Now is not the time to relax the critical safeguards that we know could stop the spread of COVID-19 in our communities, not when we are so close,” she stated.
What’s Happening in Hospitals Right Now
Hospitals have also been seeing a decline in cases, hospitalizations and deaths, which is encouraging. While the U.S. passed the 500,000 mark of deaths from COVID-19 and is now up to a total of 513,000 deaths, the CDC does note a 23.8% decrease in deaths from the previous week.
The emergent need for travel nurses due to COVID-19 has definitely slowed and some nurses have even seen their crisis contracts suddenly cancelled at the last-minute. However, travel nursing is an industry that will never go away and there are still travel nursing assignments with average weekly pay available in areas such as:
- North Carolina: Hemodialysis, $6.8K
- Massachusetts: ICU/MICU/SICU, $6K
- Pennsylvania: ER, ICU/MICU/SICU, $5.8K
- Georgia: Med/Surg/Telemetry $5.6K
- Louisiana: ICU/MICU/SICU, $5.6K
- DC: ICU/MICU/SICU, $5.4K
What’s Happening with the Vaccine
To date, 78.6 million doses of the vaccine have been administered. Vaccination efforts have been helped with things like mass vaccination sites and the initial rollout of pharmacy vaccinations at some major retailers including CVS and Walgreens locations, as well as a catch-up to local health departments after severe winter storms derailed some shipments.
And as you have probably heard, Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose COVID-19 vaccine has been granted emergency use authorization by the FDA. (A quick note: EUA is not the same as FDA approval and because COVID-19 vaccines are not yet FDA-approved, they also can’t be mandated by an employer.) It’s not yet known when the vaccine will be readily available for distribution and in fact, the White House has warned that it will most likely be very limited supply at first.
In other vaccine news:
- Johnson & Johnson also announced they will be testing their COVID-19 vaccine on infants
- The CDC continues to update recommendations and contradictions to the vaccine as new information becomes available, so if you’re a nurse who is working on the vaccine program, you can familiarize yourself with the latest updates. Of special note are contraindications from known allergies.
- There have been some calls for the federal government to address the limited scope of the vaccine compensation program that any COVID-19 claims will go through. The Countermeasures Injury Compensation Program is different from the regular Vaccine Injury Program because none of the COVID-19 vaccines are recommended by the FDA yet and instead have just received emergency authorizations to be used. The Countermeasures Injury Compensation program is used for “covered countermeasures” that include vaccinations, devices, and medications against COVID-19, Zika and Ebola. Historically, the program has had a 90% rejection rate and is more difficult for consumers because it does not pay attorney fees, does not hold hearings and only can be used within one year of receiving the vaccine. “Congress needs to act to ensure that a better vaccine compensation program is in place that will provide confidence that when adverse reactions to the coronavirus vaccines occur—which one hopes will be very rare—that adequate compensation will be provided to the injured persons,” Peter Meyers wrote in an opinion piece for the Journal of Law and the Biosciences.
- TravelNursing.org has spoken with travel nurses who have reported significant challenges in getting the COVID-19 vaccine for themselves due to their status as a traveler. Some hospitals are administering the vaccine only to staff nurses and not travelers, leaving travel nurses on their own to find a way to get the vaccine. If you are having trouble getting your vaccine through your agency or current contracted hospital, it may be helpful to contact your state or local health department for advice on how to obtain the vaccine.
- Many areas across the country are desperately seeking help from volunteer nurses to help in vaccine administration efforts. If you are interested in becoming a volunteer, contact your local health department or search for volunteer efforts in your state. This is especially helpful if you are already fully vaccinated and can be of service once you are protected yourself.
Travel Nurses and Burnout
There has also been more attention turned to the stress that travel nurses especially have experienced in this pandemic. The travel nursing industry largely heralded as an upbeat way to gain experience, meet new people, earn money and travel all at the same time has been completely upended in a lot of ways by the pandemic. Instead of a positive experience focused on growth and fun, travel nursing was thrust into the bellies of the COVID-19 beast, a band-aid solution to hospitals unable to care for patients fast enough.
Coupled with the sudden emergent needs of caring for patients with COVID-19, the pandemic also brought severe isolation and stress to travel nurses, who were often sequestered alone in hotel housing near the hospital and forced to quarantine away from others.
“I did have moments where I didn’t want to talk to anybody because I felt like no one could really understand what I was going through, and that made me feel more alone,” one travel nurse said in a CNN feature.
If you are a travel nurse, it might feel like you are only just now coming up for air after back-to-back assignments or a crisis contract suddenly getting canceled. And if you are realizing that you are burned out or struggling with any mental health issues, be sure to take a break and reach out for the help you need. The beauty about travel nursing is that you can absolutely take a break when you need it — not only will it help you rest and ensure you can come back to work recharged and ready to help your patients again, but you can also rest assured that there will plenty of jobs to come back to.