Emily Sallade is a vaccination nurse at the Visiting Nurse Association of Greater St. Louis (VNA). She’s a proud St. Louisian, and she’s always had a love for serving others in her community. She serves as a school vaccine nurse alongside providing vaccinations to corporations through VNA and aiding in VNA’s wellness programs. However, when the pandemic started last March, her school jobs stopped, causing her to find a new way to provide for her family. She needed to find additional opportunities, so she applied to become a traveling nurse. It’s a move that ultimately brought her to the frontline of the coronavirus outbreak in New York City.
“The last week of March 2020, I went from needing something to do to flying to New York. The need was so bad, they were basically skipping the extended process for a job. They didn’t do an interview. They just needed bodies and people with nursing licenses. It was crazy how fast everything played out,” says Emily.
When she arrived at her job at New York Presbyterian Hospital, they switched her from her original assignment in occupational health to helping a team of nurses run a newly established COVID-19 hotline. They let her work remotely at a hotel nearby, but she was given very little instruction.
“They had basically been trying to figure out a way to streamline all their employee’s illnesses and provide them guidance regarding COVID testing,” says Emily. “Originally, there wasn’t testing, so it was just talking through employee absences and telling them how long to quarantine for and what symptoms to look for before returning to work.”
The scenes she experienced over the eight months that followed are something she describes as “borderline apocalyptic.” She saw firsthand the field hospitals set up in Central Park and refrigerator trucks full of bodies driving through the empty New York streets daily. At work, she fielded phone calls from employees who were dying and nurses who were risking their lives to save others. They were all seeking guidance and comfort.
“Comments about the pandemic being fake or overplayed are not true. I saw the devastation first-hand. People must follow simple regulations like masking,” says Emily. “We must take care of each other, listen to health leaders and trust the science, but the science is only as good as the communities that put it into practice. It’s our responsibility to protect each other.”
Emily is safely back in St. Louis with her family and gearing up to help provide COVID-19 vaccinations to the community. She is thankful for her experience in New York as it helped put the pandemic into perspective. It reminded her of the importance of following basic health and safety guidelines, and taught her new ways to help others stay safe.
“I am grateful that I could help people in desperate need, and I hope I made a difference. We must all continue to do what we can to protect people around us.”