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The cheers and applause from Sentara Obici Hospital staff is loud and uninterrupted. 

One nurse pushes a man in a wheelchair toward the door down an aisle formed by two lines of clapping health care workers, all in scrubs and face masks. The man waves as he makes his way out of the hospital for the first time in weeks.

Sentara shared a video of the informal ceremony on social media. The patient, whose identity is not being released at his request, was the first patient admitted to Obici’s intensive care unit to be treated for COVID-19.

“I think it’s really important to show that stuff right now especially because everyone in the general public is really on edge,” said Kyle Bryan, an ICU nurse at the hospital in Suffolk. “It’s good to get some good news.”

The patient who went home in the video was “near death,” said Coleen Santa Ana, president of Obici Hospital. He spent weeks in the hospital. 

Right now, about half of Obici’s ICU beds are full with patients who have COVID-19 or are waiting on test results, said ICU nurse Ashley Atkinson.

Many of those patients experience respiratory distress because of the illness, Atkinson said.

Nurses and other health care professionals everywhere are anticipating dramatic spikes in the number of patients who will require intensive care because of COVID-19. They are caring for patients during a widespread shortage of personal protective equipment, like masks, suitable to protect them from illnesses that can be transferred through respiratory droplets – like COVID-19.

Because visitor policies have changed to slow the spread of the virus, Bryan said he often finds himself helping patients feel connected to their families.

“We are the ones that are there for them, not just medically, but for support, you know, emotionally because their family can’t be with them,” he said. “That’s the biggest factor that’s changed.”

Despite the stress, Atkinson said she thinks people are finally starting to understand the work nurses like her do every day.

“I feel like people are recognizing our hard work,” she said. “I hope people realize that what we’re doing now is what we’ve always done. We’ve always worked our hardest to get patients better so they can get out of here and be with their families and their loved ones."

A note of transparency: Sentara Healthcare is among WHRO Public Media's corporate sponsors.