December 2, 2021

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The moment that broke Cassie Alexander came nine months into the pandemic. As an intensive-care-unit nurse of 14 years, Alexander had seen plenty of “Hellraiser stuff,” she told me. But when COVID-19 hit her Bay Area hospital, she witnessed “death on a scale I had never seen before.”

Last December, at the height of the winter surge, she cared for a patient who had caught the coronavirus after being pressured into a Thanksgiving dinner. Their lungs were so ruined that only a hand-pumped ventilation bag could supply enough oxygen. Alexander squeezed the bag every two seconds for 40 minutes straight to give the family time to say goodbye. Her hands cramped and blistered as the family screamed and prayed. When one of them said that a miracle might happen, Alexander found herself thinking, I am the miracle. I’m the only person keeping your loved one alive. (Cassie Alexander is a pseudonym that she has used when writing a book about these experiences. I agreed to use that pseudonym here.)

The senselessness of the death, and her guilt over her own resentment, messed her up. Weeks later, when the same family called to ask if the staff had really done everything they could, “it was like being punched in the gut,” she told me. She had given everything—to that patient, and to the stream of others who had died in the same room. She felt like a stranger to herself, a commodity to her hospital, and an outsider to her own relatives, who downplayed the pandemic despite everything she told them. In April, she texted her friends: “Nothing like feeling strongly suicidal at a job where you’re supposed to be keeping people alive.” Shortly after, she was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, and she left her job.

Since COVID-19 first pummeled the U.S., Americans have been told to flatten the curve lest hospitals be overwhelmed. But hospitals have been overwhelmed. The nation has avoided the most apocalyptic scenarios, such as ventilators running out by the thousands, but it’s still sleepwalked into repeated surges that have overrun the capacity of many hospitals, killed more than 762,000 people, and traumatized countless health-care workers. “It’s like it takes a piece of you every time you walk in,” says Ashley Harlow, a Virginia-based nurse practitioner who left her ICU after watching her grandmother Nellie die there in December. She and others have gotten through the surges on adrenaline and camaraderie, only to realize, once the ICUs are empty, that so too are they.

Some health-care workers have lost their jobs during the pandemic, while others have been forced to leave because they’ve contracted long COVID and can no longer work. But many choose to leave, including “people whom I thought would nurse patients until the day they died,” Amanda Bettencourt, the president-elect of the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses, told me. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that the health-care sector has lost nearly half a million workers since February

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WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court declined Friday to block Maine’s requirement for health care workers to receive a Covid-19 vaccine, even though it doesn’t contain a religious exemption.

Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch dissented, saying they would have blocked the mandate. Two of the court’s other conservatives, Amy Coney Barrett and Brett Kavanaugh, said they agreed the court should not take the case, because it came on an emergency appeal without benefit of a full briefing.

The state requirement was challenged by health care workers who opposed the Covid-19 vaccination mandate on religious grounds. State officials began enforcing the new rule on Friday.

Maine’s order applies to health workers in hospitals, nursing homes and doctor’s offices. State officials said most of those covered by the order have complied.

Maine allowed religious exemptions in the past for health care workers, daycare employees, school children and college students. But the state eliminated all non-medical vaccination exemptions in 2019. It said falling inoculation rates were causing communicable diseases to spread more rapidly.

A group of health care workers sued when the Covid-19 vaccine was required, saying they objected because the vaccine was developed with the aid of “fetal cell lines that originated in elective abortions.” The rule forced them to decide “what is more important to them — their deeply held religious beliefs or their ability to work anywhere in their state so that they can feed their families.”

None of the Covid-19 vaccines contain fetal cells, according to published data about their composition. During the testing stages for their vaccines, Moderna and Pfizer used cell lines replicated from fetal cells taken 50 years ago. Johnson &Johnson used a different cell line in some of the production phases of its vaccine.

Lawyers for the state told the court that Maine was not engaging in religious discrimination, because the law applies to all healthcare workers and is not intended to restrict any particular religious practice. “The object of the recent amendment to the rule is to prevent the spread of Covid-19 among healthcare workers in high-risk settings, protect patients and individuals from disease and death, and protect Maine’s healthcare system,” the attorneys wrote.

“Most healthcare facility outbreaks in Maine are the result of healthcare workers bringing Covid-19 into the facility,” the state told the Supreme Court.

Writing for the three dissenters, Gorsuch said the state was not treating all healthcare workers equally, because those with a medical objection could refuse to take the vaccine, while those with religious objections cannot.

“Health care workers who have served on the front line of a pandemic for the last 18 months are now being fired and their practices shuttered. All for adhering to their constitutionally protected religious beliefs. Their plight is worthy of our attention,” he said.

https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/supreme-court/supreme-court-declines-block-vaccine-mandate-health-workers-maine-n1282757… Read More...

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