What the Omicron Wave Looks Like at One Brooklyn Hospital Emergency Room

But the patients keep arriving, and in droves: More than 15,000 people with Covid-19 have been hospitalized in the city in the past four weeks, the most since the initial surge. About half of all patients in the city’s hospitals now have Covid-19.

And there are simply not enough nurses to care for them all. Across New York, hospitals generally employ fewer nurses than they did at the start of the pandemic, according to the New York State Nurses Association, a union.

Some nurses, burned out by stress, have left the profession; others have taken traveling nurse jobs at considerably higher pay. And the Omicron variant’s extreme infectiousness has meant many are out sick or in isolation on any given day.

Dr. Sylvie de Souza, who runs the Brooklyn Hospital Center’s emergency room, said she had enough doctors but had never had so few nurses. Some days, she only had three-quarters of the nurses she needed. On Wednesday, it was closer to half.

“During the first wave we were able-bodied,” she said. “But now we’re exhausted and many are ill.”

On Wednesday, Dr. de Souza arrived before 8 a.m. and left around 11 p.m., her typical schedule during peak Covid-19 periods. She pitched in wherever she could, at one point filling cups at a water cooler and passing them out to patients, some of whose lips were dry and cracked.

But the camaraderie that helped sustain hospital workers in early 2020 — when, draped in garbage bags for lack of protective equipment, they faced a deadly new pathogen — sometimes felt as though it had worn thin.

“Please, that vanished pretty quickly,” said Ms. Williams, who was on maternity leave during the first Covid-19 wave and returned to work in June 2020.

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