12:20 p.m., St. Joseph Hospital Emergency Room, Denver

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Claire Cleveland, CPR News – cpr.org

It was another quiet day in the E.R., and the nurses gathered as they do every afternoon to discuss adjusting their schedules. This is a ripple effect of the pandemic: While parts of the health care system are stretched to the limit, emergency rooms are less busy.

“Not gonna lie,” said Dr. Ramnik Dhaliwal, who started his shift at 8. “A little bit bored today.” 

More people than ever before are staying home, which means fewer accidents and injuries, Dhaliwal said. He had a patient who suffered a heart attack at home and didn’t go to the ER for three days. He said it’s part messaging — people heeding calls to avoid the hospital unless it’s a true emergency —  but also fear of contracting the virus at the hospital.

Like all health care professionals, Dhaliwal wears personal protective equipment, or PPE. That means scrubs, a mask, protective glasses and a scrub hat. He understands the need, but he’s bothered that it takes away from the personal nature of his interactions with patients. 

“Hopefully this doesn’t stay like this forever,” he said. “Just waiting for that vaccine.” 

The slower traffic to the E.R. compounds the financial pressures facing health-care providers. To make sure resources are adequate to battle the virus, hospitals in Colorado and nationwide have postponed elective medicine including non-emergency surgeries and procedures. 

The meeting of the nursing staff ended with the decision to send some home early.