In the United Kingdom, currently ranked 6th globally for coronavirus cases, healthcare workers face nearly impossible odds fighting the virus that has taken more than 17,000 lives in the country.
Tylah Drewett, an 18-year-old Londoner studying event production and management at a local university, wanted to help medical workers during the coronavirus pandemic. She lacks the medical experience needed to work directly with patients, but in late March she found a job as a custodian at Barnet Hospital in Chipping Barnet, England, where she worked long hours sanitizing wards meant for coronavirus patients.
“[Coronavirus] is everywhere. If you don’t have the virus beforehand, and you walk into the hospital without protective gear, you essentially get it,” said Drewett.
Barnet Hospital, which is managed by the Royal Free London National Health System Foundation Trust, offered workers supplies during their time there, including boxes filled with baked beans, soup, pasta and toilet paper rolls. “The NHS was lovely in the sense we got free food and even an essentials box to take home,” said Drewett.
Although the hospital provided these boxes for staff, it could not meet the rising demand for essential supplies. As Drewett worked removing trash cans from rooms and cleaning coronavirus wards, even scrubbing the walls clean, she lacked crucial equipment to protect herself as well as supplies to properly clean the hospital.
Drewett explained there was little personal protective equipment, or PPE, there for workers, custodians and nurses . She was given only minimal information on how to protect herself. “They sort of threw me in the deep end with it all,” she said.
At first, Drewett’s family was proud of her for taking the job at the hospital even as it dealt with an influx of patients. But as the number of cases rose, they realized the danger of her position. Her mother and other family members asked her to stop, fearing she would bring the virus home. After three weeks of work, she decided to quit.
“I was okay with it at first because I was healthy and didn’t have anyone in my family who had serious health issues,” said Drewett. “But on my last shift, this lady who I worked with came in shaking and crying about the whole coronavirus situation. It freaked me out even more and that’s when I decided to leave. I was so afraid of catching the virus at work.”