Infectious Disease Nurse: COVID-19 in Some Ways Scarier Than Ebola

Kate Boulter, 60

Title: Nurse Manager, Nebraska Biocontainment Unit

Location: Omaha, Nebraska

Part of the Global Center for Health Security at the University of Nebraska, the biocontainment unit treats patients with emerging infectious diseases, such as highly lethal Ebola. In February 2020, the unit took in Nebraska’s first COVID-19 patients — passengers from the Diamond Princess cruise ship, now notorious for nearly 700 infections and at least 14 reported deaths from the coronavirus.

As told to Lisa Esposito as part of U.S. News & World Report’s “One Pandemic Question” series. Responses have been edited for length and clarity.

Q: Were you more concerned about COVID-19 than other pandemics or epidemics?

Our first encounter with COVID-19 was when we housed a number of passengers who had been quarantined on the Diamond Princess cruise ship and were then repatriated to America. Quite a few of them had COVID when they arrived. One of them was deemed sick enough to need hospitalization. So, that morning we activated the biocontainment unit, where he received treatment and care.

Biocontainment means containing a highly contagious disease in a certain space. Because we only have 10 beds in our unit, we knew there’d soon be an overflow of COVID patients. We were watching what was going on in other countries. We saw what was happening in New York and Washington, where COVID was just spreading rampantly. We knew our biocontainment unit in Nebraska couldn’t contain this on its own, so the hospital we’re a part of started preparing larger units to take care of COVID patients.

[See: Personal Protective Equipment (PPE): Definition and Examples.]

I do worry about COVID more than Ebola. It seems unpredictable as to how it will affect someone, and I’ve seen how sick people can get. Then there are the variants that are now appearing that can add complexity to containing it.

When we were taking care of Ebola, it would be wrong to say I was unafraid at first. But we learned how to manage it. In much the same way, we’ve learned how to manage and be safe with COVID patients. We’ve trained our staff on how to take care of airborne diseases. They know their PPE and how to use it.

[See: Ways to Boost Your Immune System.]

In a way, when we took the first patients into the biocontainment unit, it was a great opportunity for the rest of the hospital to prepare. We initiated a program that allowed our general hospital staff to learn how to put on and take off PPE, and how to watch and correct each other and accept correction graciously. It’s about feeling confidence and empowerment to do so.

It’s really great to be able to see people helping each other — making sure that everybody stays safe. I think the best way for all of us to keep each other safe is to get vaccinated. We don’t see vaccinated people needing to be put in the hospital if they get COVID.

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