As coronavirus cases in the United States surpass 4 million, travel nurses who helped treat patients in hospitals across the country are noticing a troubling trend in their home states: friends and family who doubt the seriousness of the virus or even believe conspiracy theories about it.
OLUMIDE PETER KOLADE: A few of my friends that I talked to in Texas then will try to tell me, oh, no. This is a virus driven agenda. I just felt like it was an insult to anybody that was putting their life at risk just to provide care for anybody out there at the hospital.
- I feel like most of the conversations I've had it doesn't necessarily matter that I'm a nurse. People put facts out there and it just keeps getting ignored.
OLUMIDE PETER KOLADE: So at the beginning of March, I remember watching the TV and just seeing people dying. New York needed some help. In 12 hours, I packed my bag, didn't think about it twice. I was in New York. Never looked back. 21 days turned to 104 days. You had colleagues that were getting sick. It was like a war zone where you see a man down.
RACHEL HARTLEY: So Virginia is where I was living in and when COVID hit, I left my job to come and help in New York City. And then going home to Virginia, they don't understand how bad this disease could get. Not a lot of people are doing things to help prevent the spread.
TOM HULING: I've never been to New York City, and first week in the hospital, probably the first two weeks, were you walking in to it was a disaster. And as much as you can describe that to somebody, like, they're really not going to get it. You have to really see the people dying in front of you.
- I was in North Carolina. I was there April, May, June. Normally I work with oncology, hematology, and bone marrow transplant patients. It's a lot of leukemia. So we're pretty much wiping out their immune systems. They literally have nothing to fight the infection with.
With our cancer patients, whenever we're starting treatments, we can't stop seeing them. So I know a lot of our patients were more or less terrified to come into the hospital, but they didn't have an option. And those are the people that I think are the higher risk that I wish the people would just take into account for.
OLUMIDE PETER KOLADE: I got mad at certain people, and some people, I didn't keep in touch with them anymore because I just felt like they were not being selfless. They were being selfish. Like, this is a "plandemic," it is not a pandemic. This is a virus out there killing people, and I'm out here front lining, risking my life every day to provide care.
TOM HULING: I've got a lot of strong opinion friends, and they always post things on social media, and jump to conspiracy theories this is a full on control mechanism. Nobody wins when everything is shut down, when you have to wear a mask. Like, show me who's benefiting from this.
- For the last two weeks, I've been in a smaller area in Northeast Tennessee where people just assume that since they're not packed in tightly together around other people that they don't have to take the same precautions. It's been very interesting to see, like, the idea of God's going to take care of this. I understand if you want to take that risk on your own, but at a certain point, like, your decisions are affecting so many more people than yourself.
RACHEL HARTLEY: It was disappointing at many times to see the anti-mask group saying things that I felt were really just counter-productive to the work that I'm doing personally. Wearing a mask is a simple sacrifice, personal sacrifice of comfort just to help your neighbor, to love your friends and your community because you never know if you have the virus.
OLUMIDE PETER KOLADE: We have no cure for this virus at this point right now. And the only way we can fight this virus is we have to collectively look out for each other.