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COVID Hospitalizations So Low In Western PA That Nurses Are Leaving To Help Elsewhere

Exam room at UPMC Shadyside.

Early social distancing interventions have paid off. So far, fewer than 250 Allegheny County residents have been hospitalized for COVID-19.

In fact, the level of COVID illness is so low, some Pittsburgh-based nurses have left to take temporary jobs at hospitals in coronavirus hotspots. 

Like many health systems, Allegheny Health Network and UPMC canceled a large number of non-urgent medical procedures to prepare for a rush of COVID patients.

“What we were expecting never actually showed up. But we were always on edge, almost,” said Taylor Dilick, an intensive care unit nurse at UPMC Shadyside.

Infectious disease researchers and epidemiologists say that Pennsylvania’s mandates of social distancing have been particularly effective in the western part of the state, which has had relatively few cases of the novel coronavirus. The early interventions slowed the virus's spread and prevented hospitals from being inundated with COVID patients.

“The last couple weeks I was at Shadyside… it felt like a ghost town,” she said. “I felt like I wasn’t really needed.”

So Dilick took a leave-of-absence from UPMC. Since Easter, she’s has been working 60-hour-weeks at New York University’s Tisch and Kimmel hospitals in Manhattan.

Though the effects of COVID on patients are terrifying, Dilick said it feels good to again be working in a busy hospital.

“It’s an odd sense of relief,” she said. “They’re just so appreciative, and they were so welcoming. It feels like you belong here.”

Dilick isn’t the only ICU nurse leaving Pittsburgh to help. This week, her friend Diane Schrom left Allegheny Health Network’s West Penn hospital for St. Barnabas Hospital in the Bronx.

“It’s dangerous, but it’s something I feel like I want to do and need to do to help out,” she said. “It would be a lot harder to leave, obviously, if we were drowning, essentially if our patients weren’t safe.”

But so far, Pittsburgh has averted disaster.

WESA receives funding from Allegheny Health Network and UPMC.

Sarah Boden covers health and science for 90.5 WESA. Before coming to Pittsburgh in November 2017, she was a reporter for Iowa Public Radio where she covered a range of issues, including the 2016 Iowa Caucuses.