Two Brothers, Nurses, Work Side By Side in COVID-19 ICU | U.S. News Hospital Heroes

After they graduated from high school in North Carolina, Guillermo Vargas and his brother Jonathan wanted to join the Marines. The Mexican immigrants were prepared to serve the U.S. by donning military fatigues and battling enemies overseas.

The Marines turned the Vargas brothers away, Guillermo and Jonathan say, because of their immigration status. Born in Mexico and brought to the U.S. as children without documentation, the brothers were approved for a program that shields kids like them from deportation. But the program doesn’t confer all the rights of citizenship or permanent legal residency.

So today, the brothers serve on a different front line – in the battle against COVID-19. Guillermo, 32, and Jonathan, 30, are both registered nurses in the intensive care unit at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

Instead of wearing camo and carrying military-grade weapons to battle flesh-and-blood enemies, the brothers don personal protective equipment – disposable gowns, gloves and masks – to protect themselves against the highly transmissible novel coronavirus.

The daily battle they wage while providing treatment to COVID-19 patients in the ICU exacts a heavy emotional and mental toll on the brothers.

Several times, both siblings have cared for patients over a period of weeks, getting to know them and the relatives who call to check on their loved ones. Some COVID-19 patients have briefly improved, only to quickly deteriorate and die. “It does feel like you’re in a never-ending battle, the way the pandemic is going right now,” Jonathan says. “You’re fighting for people’s lives, and patients keep streaming in. We’re exhausted, we’re tired, we’re mentally burned out.”

Jonathan recalls being present as another nurse held an iPad so a COVID-19 patient near death could speak to his relatives one final time. “It was pretty difficult,” he says. “The patient was taking his last breaths surrounded by strangers.” Watching COVID-19 patients die without the company of loved ones “is one of the hardest things we do,” Guillermo says. “The first thing you think about is your family. You think ‘this could be my mom, my dad, my brother.’ It’s very sad.”

In the first weeks of the pandemic, Wake Forest Baptist didn’t allow family members to visit COVID-19 patients because of the highly-transmissible nature of the virus, the brothers say. Forsyth County, where Winston-Salem is located, was then among the handful of counties reporting the highest number of novel coronavirus cases in North Carolina. The rate leveled off, more or less, during the summer. Cases are now rising again: In the medical intensive care unit where the Vargas brothers work, most of the 32 beds for COVID-19 patients have been filled in recent weeks. Overall, the hospital has about 70 beds for COVID-19 patients; officials can increase or decrease the number of COVID-19 beds, depending on the need for them, a Wake Forest Baptist spokeswoman says.

Stressful Immigration Status

The two siblings spent their early years in a poor area in the state of

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Oklahoma reports 821 current COVID-19 hospitalizations, 319 in the ICU

The Oklahoma State Department of Health on Monday reported 774 new COVID-19 cases across the state, bringing the total cumulative number of the state’s positive cases to 108,073.



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Two additional deaths were reported Monday; no deaths were identified in the past 24 hours, according to health officials. Here’s what we know about the latest deaths:

  • One in Tillman County, one male in the 65 or older age group.
  • One in Tulsa County, one male in the 65 or older age group.

According to the health department, there have been 1,173 coronavirus deaths statewide.

Get the details from Oklahoma State Department of Health.

Officials also reported that 92,367 Oklahomans have recovered from the virus. By Oklahoma health officials’ definition, a recovered patient is currently not hospitalized or deceased and it has been 14 days after onset/report.

There are 14,533 active cases statewide, health officials said.

Officials said there have been 7,815 total hospitalizations, and that 821 people were listed as currently hospitalized as of Monday. 319 of them are in the ICU, which is the most ever at one time since the pandemic started.

According to the health department, 35.06% of those who tested positive are between the ages of 18 and 35, 21.34% are 36 to 49 years old, 18.12% are 50 to 64 years old, 13.99% are 65 years old or older, 9.59% are 5 to 17 years old and 1.90% are 4 years old or younger.

TOTAL CUMULATIVE NUMBER OF CASES BY COUNTY (As of Monday, Oct. 19)

  • Adair: 722 cases, 11 deaths
  • Alfalfa: 112 cases
  • Atoka: 400 cases, 1 death
  • Beaver: 80 cases
  • Beckham: 834 cases, 10 deaths
  • Blaine: 185 cases, 1 death
  • Bryan: 1,383 cases, 11 deaths
  • Caddo: 1,059 cases, 24 deaths
  • Canadian: 3,386 cases, 21 deaths
  • Carter: 731 cases, 9 deaths
  • Cherokee: 1,307 cases, 8 deaths
  • Choctaw: 411 cases, 2 deaths
  • Cimarron: 34 cases
  • Cleveland: 7,625 cases, 85 deaths
  • Coal: 82 cases
  • Comanche: 2,116 cases, 16 deaths
  • Cotton: 88 cases, 3 deaths
  • Craig: 592 cases, 2 deaths
  • Creek: 1,467 cases, 36 deaths
  • Custer: 991 cases, 3 deaths
  • Delaware: 1,138 cases, 27 deaths
  • Dewey: 79 cases, 1 death
  • Ellis: 19 cases
  • Garfield: 2,236 cases, 23 deaths
  • Garvin: 574 cases, 6 deaths
  • Grady: 1,467 cases, 14 deaths
  • Grant: 78 cases, 1 death
  • Greer: 133 cases, 8 deaths
  • Harmon: 62 cases
  • Harper: 49 cases, 1 death
  • Haskell: 356 cases, 5 deaths
  • Hughes: 362 cases, 4 deaths
  • Jackson: 1,019 cases, 11 deaths
  • Jefferson: 67 cases
  • Johnston: 263 cases, 4 deaths
  • Kay: 796 cases, 15 deaths
  • Kingfisher: 492 cases, 2 deaths
  • Kiowa: 151 cases, 2 deaths
  • Latimer: 179 cases, 2 deaths
  • Le Flore: 1,544 cases, 21 deaths
  • Lincoln: 714 cases, 13 deaths
  • Logan: 745 cases, 2 deaths
  • Love: 250 cases, 1 death
  • Major: 143 cases, 2 deaths
  • Marshall: 253 cases, 2 deaths
  • Mayes: 881 cases, 11 deaths
  • McClain: 1,180 cases, 9 deaths
  • McCurtain: 1,534 cases, 37
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