Photo Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photos: Angela Weiss/AFP via Getty Images, Bruce Bennett/Getty Images, and Europa Press News/Europa Press via Getty Images

Health care workers are at an especially high risk of catching the coronavirus because of their prolonged exposure to patients who have it. Making matters worse, the U.S. doesn't have enough of the protective equipment, like masks and gloves, that keeps them safe.

And yet these workers, with loved ones of their own, keep showing up at hospitals across the country, knowing that more Americans than they can possibly care for are depending on them.

Between the lines: The coronavirus is expected to create a demand for hospital care that far exceeds what the system was built to handle.

  • An overwhelmed health care system is not some abstract thing. It is a group of overwhelmed people — health care workers toiling around the clock with inadequate supplies to treat patients with a highly infectious disease.
  • Thousands of health care workers in China and Italy have fallen sick from the coronavirus, a warning sign for the U.S.

Two nurses in New York City died earlier this month, the New York Times reported last week, and health care workers said they were afraid more would follow.

  • “I am nagged by a constant fear that a patient who otherwise would have been saved, on any hour of any day before this pandemic, will die today,” Dhruv Khullar, a doctor in New York City, writes in the New Yorker.
  • “Years of honing our clinical instincts—observing patterns in disease pace and trajectory—suddenly seem insufficient and unreliable. We’re learning what to do, and when to do it, as we go,” Khullar adds.

Shortages of masks, gloves, face shields and other protective equipment have led providers to reuse supplies and improvise with makeshift alternatives.

  • Some hospitals have threatened to fire workers who raise the alarm about these shortages, Bloomberg reports.

Beyond their own health, workers have to worry about spreading a highly contagious disease to their loved ones, including members of vulnerable populations.

  • Some workers report physically distancing themselves from their immediate families — including spouses and children — by sleeping in separate rooms or living in different places altogether, per the NYT.

The bottom line: “Each morning, on the way to work, I wonder if I’ll be healthy enough to return tomorrow,” Khullar writes.

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Updated 3 hours ago - Health

U.S. coronavirus updates

Data: The COVID Tracking Project; Note: Does not include probable deaths from New York City; Map: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Trump administration officials and Democratic congressional leaders remain at a stalemate in negotiations on the next coronavirus stimulus package.

The big picture: White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows told CBS Sunday he's "not optimistic that there will be a solution in the very near term."

Jul 14, 2020 - Health

FCC chair: CARES Act brought 539 telehealth providers online

Photo credit: Axios screenshot

The CARES Act helped shift 539 health care providers online by providing $200 million in funding, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai said Tuesday at an Axios virtual event.

What he's saying: "Since April 13th when we opened up the window to telehealth providers submitting applications, we’ve now distributed funding to 539 applicants, allocated all $200 million of that money to 47 states, the District of Columbia and Guam. And this money is being distributed to a whole variety of institutions: bricks-and-mortar community health centers, mental health and behavioral health facilities and the like. And they’re providing a variety of care towards up to $1 million. It’s already having a huge impact."

Watch the virtual event

Jul 14, 2020 - Health

Oscar Health CEO: Virtual health helped decrease ER overcrowding from COVID

Photo credit: Axios screenshot

Patients who used telehealth during the pandemic contributed to a decrease in emergency room visits by 40% nationwide, and by 80% among those 14 years old and younger, Mario Schlosser, co-founder and CEO of Oscar Health, said Tuesday at an Axios virtual event.

Why it matters: The decrease in ER visits showed many patients were regularly using telehealth services for non-emergencies. Virtual health care visits could become a default for check-ups, prescription refills and behavioral health even after the pandemic subsides, Schlosser added.