ABC News Corona Virus Health and Science

Oklahoma nursing students start early to help with COVID

Rising hospitalizations prompted hospitals to put up tents to triage patients.

In Oklahoma, rising coronavirus cases and hospitalizations are straining hospital staff and leading to long wait times for patients.

"We're seeing that the patients that are coming in are sicker," Dr. Lance Watson, medical director of Mercy Hospital's emergency department, told ABC News Oklahoma City affiliate KOCO.

"It takes more time to evaluate them in the emergency department, and then it's causing more issues with admitting patients upstairs because there's just not enough room,” he said.

Ballooning hospital admissions prompted Mercy to put up tents outside to triage patients, a practice other hospitals in the area have turned to as well. Watson is worried that staffing can't keep up if hospitalizations keep rising.

"Will we have actually have the staff and the providers to see those patients?" he asked.

New coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and positive test rates are all rising in Oklahoma, according to an ABC News analysis of data from The COVID Tracking Project. As of Friday, there were 208,875 infections and 1,860 deaths from the virus, according to the state health department.

At Oklahoma Christian University, nursing students may step up to fill the gap. After the Oklahoma Nurses Association held a conference this week about the state's nursing shortage, a local health facility reached out to OSU to see if they would allow their students to start clinical sessions early.

Kathryn Stagg, a senior nursing student, is one of 24 students who will be starting her clinical experience early.

"I feel like that’s what nursing is," Stagg told KOCO. "We are called to nursing. We are called to help people," she said.

"That’s part of our mission."

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