‘Stranded on your own’: Philadelphians share the struggles of an unprecedented battle against coronavirus

KYW Staff
March 25, 2020 - 11:30 am

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PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — It’s no secret that the coronavirus pandemic has taken a toll on everyone’s daily lives, from health care workers and delivery drivers to school teachers and even vacationers.

Medical professionals feel as though they are on the frontlines of an unlikely war. Meanwhile, some Philadelphians are sequestered from their families or stranded in foreign countries, unsure when they can return home.

As the novel virus continues to spread, everyone is adjusting to the fluid coronavirus.

Medical professional battle new virus

This is an unprecedented time for health care workers, who are physically and mentally exhausted caring for patients of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, with limited supplies and resources. 

Some area medical professionals said their No. 1 concern right now is preparing for the expected influx of people who will contract COVID-19 and need immediate care.

Suburban Philadelphia emergency medicine doctor Nevin McGinley said he feels like he's on the frontlines of a war.

“The difference between us and the Army right now is we don't have a lot of money going into our protective equipment,” he said, including N95 respirator masks, gloves, gowns, goggles and swabs. “We wouldn't send our troops into war without guns and bullets, and we're sending our nurses and doctors into the frontlines being told that a scarf or a bandana is protective.”

Even worse, medical professionals may be most at risk. McGinley is concerned about the well-being of his wife and four children.

“If I get it, I'm really worried that I would spread it to them, and I don't even like thinking about that,” he said.

Other hospitals may have enough equipment right now, “but if we have people that we're taking care of with this virus, we would quickly run out,” echoed a registered nurse at a local retirement facility, who wished to remain anonymous. 

She said the coronavirus is the only thing she and her colleagues can think about.

“We just talk about the unknown, just like everybody. What's going to happen? When's it going to happen?” she questioned. “We're just not going to have enough supplies, enough beds, to take care of everybody at the same time.”

McGinley said his recent overnight ER shifts have been “eerie.”

“On the nights that I've worked, I've seen fewer patients per shift than I have my entire nine-year career. It just feels like the calm before the storm,” McGinley said.

“We all feel like we're standing on a beach and watching this giant tsunami come in.”

Dream vacation turns into nightmare

Marty Mullaney and his family were paying attention to the evolving coronavirus outbreak when they set off for an island vacation on March 11 — first to Belize, then to Roatan, an island about 40 miles off the coast of Honduras.

“We kept the trip on because in this part of the world, in Central America, there was no coronavirus,” said the Montgomery County resident.

Things quickly changed after their first night in Roatan on March 15.

“We had a person at the door telling us the border had been closed overnight and we were not going to be permitted to leave,” Mullaney recalled.

They spent days trying to come up with a solution, but each kept falling through — an experience shared by tens of thousands of other Americans suddenly stranded in foreign countries. With each passing day, they felt a growing concern for their safety, as the country had basically shut down.

“There was no one to turn to. You weren’t going to get any government help, you weren’t going to get any police help. You basically were stranded and on your own,” he said.

Fortunately, Mullaney and his family were able to secure seats — for $1,300 each — on a flight to Miami through a company called Global Guardian.

He knows he’s one of the lucky ones. During the chaos, he met a family who had been stuck on the island for three weeks and couldn’t afford tickets that expensive.

South Philly couple Rich Levering and Sara Schuenemann were headed to Argentina to celebrate Schuenemann's mother's 80th birthday, and they, too, were blindsided when the borders to Lima, Peru, were closed. Instead, they were left stranded in Peru, along with their dog.

Mullaney is still in communication with people at the State Department to try to help others who are stranded, but he’s hearing it could be up to two weeks.

“The problem is, two weeks could be too late.”

State Department officials say they’ve been able to get about 5,000 Americans home from more than a dozen countries, but they estimate there are still about 13,500 who are stranded.

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KYW Newsradio's Jim Melwert and Hadas Kuznits contributed to this report.