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UPMC nurses hold vigil for fallen

Hospital employees honor 43 county lives lost to virus

Over a dozen UPMC Altoona nurses participated in a COVID-19 candlelight vigil in Cricket Field Plaza across from the hospital on Wednesday evening. Forty-three electric candles were illuminated, one for each COVID-19 death in Blair County. Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski

Nurses from UPMC Altoona held a vigil in front of the hospital Wednesday evening to commemorate the lives of the 43 Blair County people who have died from COVID-19 and to encourage everyone to wear masks.

Gathering along Howard Avenue, the nurses set out small battery-operated candles on the ground, held placards and spoke of their patients and the dangers of the virus.

“Their loved ones are not far from our hearts,” said medical intensive care nurse Sandy Wagner, speaking of those who have died of the disease.

Masks can make a big difference in preventing more deaths, and “maybe it will sink in more,” if people hear warnings from people who’ve witnessed the worst the disease can inflict, Wagner said.

One nurse spoke of the distress she felt witnessing the fear of dying in her patients.

Masks may be “uncomfortable, but they’re better than the alternative,” Wagner said.

Masks are especially critical when visitors come to the hospital to see COVID-19 patients, according to Wagner, who has seen some with their masks off.

That’s a recipe for spreading infection to the community, one nurse said.

UPMC Altoona is limiting patient visitation to one “support person” per patient at a time, during defined hours, according to hospital spokeswoman Danielle Sampsell.

“Support persons, who are identified by the patient, are an essential part of the care team to help our patients manage and communicate about their care,” Sampsell wrote in an email. “Patients with support persons have proven to recover faster, have better mental and emotional health, shorter lengths of stay and a better overall experience.”

Such “support persons” must be at least 18, be screened upon entering, remain masked while inside and follow distancing guidelines, Sampsell said.

Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 814-949-7038.

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