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Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

Health care workers on the front lines in the fight against COVID are suffering from unprecedented levels of burnout amid the latest surge.

Why it matters: America’s health care workers are already burnt out from previous waves of the pandemic. But as hospitals in hotspots are filling up, and sick COVID patients are once again requiring life-saving care, the stress is being compounded by the battle over public health measures.

"There's a lot of rage and frustration in the workforce where it's like, 'God, we could be done with this,'" Meredith Duke, a bariatric surgeon at Vanderbilt told Axios.

  • "There are just hundreds of man-hours that will be spent on one individual who, if he'd made a different decision a couple of months ago, wouldn't be in the hospital," Duke said.
  • In Arkansas, which has seen more than 1,000 people hospitalized for COVID in recent days, health care workers harbor similar frustrations. ‘It’s too late for them to get the vaccine,’ an ICU nurse in Arkansas told the Wall Street Journal. "It’s been pretty demoralizing."

The workforce is also running into a problem that's plagued other industries like airlines and restaurants in recent months: rage.

  • Once seen as health care 'heroes,' many health care workers have been worn down by constantly battling misinformation.
  • Others have faced increasing verbal abuse or threats from patients and the public when discussing health measures, said Gregg Miller, the chief medical officer of Vituity, a firm that staffs hospital emergency departments.
  • During one of Miller's recent shifts in an emergency room, a coworker offered a patient a vaccine dose to a patient. "The patient just unleashed on him."
  • "I walked through a crowd of hundreds screaming at me and my child because we were wearing masks," said Duke, who was among the health care providers who tried to speak at a Tennessee school board meeting captured in a viral video earlier this week.
  • "Not just because we were wearing masks, but because I was a physician there to share my experience and advocacy for what is the safest thing for our children," she said.

Between the lines: It's making it harder to find enough health care workers to fill crucial jobs just as they're most needed.

  • A McKinsey survey in May found 22% of nurses said they may leave their current position providing direct patient care within the next year — and that was before the latest surge fed by the Delta variant.
  • "Nurses are quitting. Nurses are opting out or down-regulating shifts. Everyone seems like they are short-staffed," Miller said.
  • “In this fourth wave, it’s become a lot harder to recruit nurses,” Tracey P. Moffat, the chief nursing officer at Ochsner Health System in New Orleans told the Washington Post. She said she suspects that some travel nurses who worked through earlier pandemic surges are burned out, per the Post.
  • Dr. Catherine O’Neal, chief medical officer at Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center in Baton Rouge told The Advocate the staff is "past burnout.” “We’ve already had people decide to retire, we’ve had nurses who decided to do something else,” she said.

Go deeper

GE to mandate COVID vaccinations for U.S. workers

Photo: Sebastien Bozon/AFP via Getty Images

General Electric will require all of its workers in the U.S. to be vaccinated against COVID-19, citing President Biden's executive order for federal contractors, the company confirmed to Axios on Tuesday.

Why it matters: General Electric is the latest in a slew of major companies to mandate the vaccine for workers, following in the footsteps of American Airlines, Tyson Foods and Microsoft, among others.

Updated 22 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Vaccines: Mix-and-matching gains momentum — Boosters overtake first doses in U.S. — Pfizer to vaccinate Brazilian cityPanel endorses J&J booster.
  2. Health: Age is still a huge coronavirus risk factor — Unvaccinated 11x more likely to die from COVID — 5x more police officers died from COVID than guns.
  3. Politics: Over 30 states limited public health powers — Pope Francis calls on companies to release vaccine patents — Melbourne, "world's most locked-down city," to lift stay-at-home orders.
  4. Education: Education secretary reveals limits to Biden’s mask push on states — LA extends deadline for school employee vaccinations — Parent sues Wisconsin school district after child tests positive.
  5. Variant tracker: Where different strains are spreading.
21 hours ago - Health

J&J expects $2.5 billion of vaccine sales this year

J&J's COVID-19 vaccine. Photo: Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Johnson & Johnson registered $502 million of global revenue from its COVID-19 vaccine in the third quarter, bringing year-to-date vaccine sales to $766 million.

The big picture: J&J, which is selling the vaccine at a not-for-profit price of $7.50 per dose, still expects to generate $2.5 billion of COVID vaccine sales this year, executives said Tuesday. But that total will still dwarf the use and sales of the vaccines made by Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna.