Facing immense risk, health care workers rise to challenge of war against COVID-19

Medical professionals fight to keep up patient care, but they lack enough equipment to properly protect themselves. Doctors, nurses and health care workers across the nation share their stories.
10:22 | 03/31/20

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Transcript for Facing immense risk, health care workers rise to challenge of war against COVID-19
The U.S. Navy hospital ship "The comfort" pulled into port here in New York City with 1,000 beds to help overwhelmed hospitals. A field hospital built in central park for those with coronavirus. The virus spreading into the homeland. The disturbing images of large groups defying orders to say home. Andrew Cuomo joins me on the new numbers from New York City, the death toll. We ask, do healthcare workers have to supplies, the protection they need to fight this? We'll ask the governor in a moment as the number of deaths in the U.S. Tops 3,000. Tonight, across the country, the grim images. In New York City, a body loaded into a refrigerated truck outside this Brooklyn hospital. Please stay inside. Please pray for these people. New York City bracing for a mounting death toll. More than 1,200 lives lost. 250 last in just the last 12 hours. We've lost over 1,000 new yorkers. To me, we're beyond staggering already. We've reached staggering. Just today the Navy hospital ship "Comfort" pulling into new York harbor. The 1,000-bed facility ready to take on noncovid-19 patients to relieve the pressure of the city's overwhelmed hospitals. In the heart of Manhattan, a new field hospital for coronavirus patients set up in central park. As New York is pushed to the brink, the president's own team warning the U.S. Death toll could soar to 100,000 to 200,000 in this country. I think it's entirely conceivable if we do not mitigate to the extent we're trying do that you could reach that number. Reporter: Tonight president trump extending social distancing guidelines to April 30th. This is what the president said just tonight. Challenging times are ahead for the next 30 days, and this is a very vital 30 days. We're sort of putting it all on the line, this 30 days. Reporter: Doctors across the country struggling to help patients unable to visit their loved ones kept from the icu. We made it a point to call families twice a day, but I can't imagine being that person on the other end having to wait for that phone call, never knowing what sort of news you're going to get. An emotional toll on nurses who are so often with critical link between a patient, alone in the icu and their family. I just came from a patient's room. He's actively dying, positive diagnosis of covid-19 and his family can't come, so had to facetime his family, and it's just so heartbreaking. Reporter: 911 call centers stretched thin, too. In New York, a record 6,000 calls in one day. First responders have been hit hard, too. About 5,000 members of the NYPD are out sick. More than 900 officers and 260 firefighters testing positive for coronavirus. Cities including Chicago and Detroit spiking too. This convention sent near Detroit will be turned into a 900-bed hospital. In Philadelphia, this arena, temple university, will be transformed into an overflow hospital after cases there topped 1,000. In Los Angeles, the Navy hospital "Mercy" already taking on extra patients to ease pressure on the hospitals. This virus is hitting doctors and nurses on the front lines, Dr. Arnold way believes he contracted the virus through a patient's cough. My father is truly in the fight for his life. Reporter: The doctor is a 63-year-old grandfather of six and a marathon runner. He's now in intensei care as the first time as a patient. Yesterday was my parents '38th wedding anniversary. They couldn't spend it together. Reporter: Reporting shortages of protective gear. 88% of cities don't have adequate supply. I have nurses that call me on a daily basis to tell me that they're scared, to tell me they don't know what to do. We didn't sign up for this. Reporter: Mary McDonald recording this video saying it's not just supplies. It's base ig medications. We're out of tylenol. Like, we're out of tylenol. -On what I can do to save people Reporter: California officials warning they're on the verge of a spike too. New Orleans, for the first time since Katrina, the convention center transformed to deal with an unfolding catastrophe. Overnight, cases in Louisiana jumping from 2,700 on Friday to more than 4,000 today. Stunning to see the convention center prepared for something like this all these years later again. Tonight weir hearing from the front lines. America's medical heroes sharing their stories. The doctors, nurses, healthcare workers fighting this battle, risking their lives to save others. Some separated from their owned loved ones and fearful of course they might bring the virus home to their families. Here's ABC's Matt Gutman tonight. I love you. Never did I ever think that I was going to be on the front lines fighting a war. I shaved my head as a rally cry, as a personal reminder that this is life and death. It's incredible. The degree of illness. Reporter: Dr. Ed Lathan is one those against the pandemic. He says the images of an overcrowded E.R. And Jamaica queens have been mirrored in hospitals all over this area. It's been 17 hours since I got here this morning at 7:00. When I arrived there have been no icu beds. Multiple resuscitations, INT BIGS. Patients critically ill. You don't have time to sit down, eat, drink, go to the bathroom. This virus has affected everybody. That's why I'm sleeping in the garage. Because I don't want to bring the enemy home with me. We bring them to the icu, put them on a ventilator. The problem is every single covid patient we get isn't leaving. Every patient is still on the ventilator, ill, on the bed. That's another nurse. And the nurses they're afraid -- I don't want to bring it home to my kids. I don't want bring it home to my The most disconcerting thing is we're losing staff members. Our nurses are sick. Reporter: But despite that risk everyday nurses are still answering the call to deal with the flood of covid patients like at this L.A. Hospital. This is beginning the check-in process for patients that will drive in. Nurses are ready, geared up, and ready for whatever's to come. So this is our icu. I'm just getting to my car now after a long almost 14-hour day. Reporter: But the intensity of the long hours take a toll. Eight years ago I took on an oath to care for patients. And they're dying alone in the hospital room without family and then their families are grieving alone because they're on isolation. It hurts. Reporter: In Georgia, nurse carton rice told us about a face facetime call with a dying patient's family. It's so hard to sit there and hold your patient's hand while their family members are sitting there telling them they love them and it's not good-bye, it's see you later. It was an amazing connection. I thought it was just facetime. I grabbed grandma's hand and she squeezed grandma's hand. I started to say I love you. I miss you. Nurse Carly is amazing. The world needs tons of nurse Carlys. Couldn't fix it but you at least gave the family a some peace. I hope so. I think about it a lot. Still wears you down. Families are put in a difficult position right now. Reporter: What keeps you going every day? Sounds like it's so utterly depressing. My patients, honestly. We were rooting on our patient as he was about to be extu baited. Meaning the tube is taken out. We're giving him thumbs up and dancing outside the room. That's what keeps me going. First covid extubeation. The best moment is when I get home how was your day? I can't get close to you. Let me go change, okay? We're rising to the challenge, and we're going to stay in this until we can defeat it. We cannot forget our healthcare workers. You see those parents go home and they can't even hug their own children until they get that gear off.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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