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Frontline health care workers face the emotional toll taken by the virus

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As the coronavirus pandemic enters a new phase in a reopening nation, its psychological toll is sinking in for the people who have cared for the sickest patients. Some other media outlets have reported on the issue, but the AP went further by going into New York City hospitals to see the impact in person, in real time and on the record.

Writer Jennifer Peltz and video journalist Robert Bumsted sat in on a “debriefing” session where emergency-room staffers at hard-hit Elmhurst Hospital told each other how they were feeling now that the crisis has eased,but the fear of a resurgence has not.

“I am still scared … I feel like it’s a calm before a second storm,” one doctor said.

“In my wildest dreams,I never imagined how hard it would be,’’ another doctor said.

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Letters of thanks from students line the walls of a break room that was set up for workers to decompress from the stress of caring for COVID-19 patients, at Elmhurst Hospital in the Queens borough of New York, May 29, 2020. – AP Photo / Robert Bumsted

Medical workers shared the heartbreak of keeping their distance from relatives for months,the terror of treating patients when protective equipment was scarce early on,and the grim task of co-workers exchanging information on drawing up wills. Between interviews,Bumsted and Peltz spent time in a special new break room that offers not just snacks and coffee but also a social worker, and in a memorial room that pays tribute to Elmhurst staffers who have died.

At Metropolitan Hospital,which also had a heavy coronavirus caseload,video journalist Ted Shaffrey and photographer John Minchillo gathered additional interviews and compelling images of a day’s work in this post-surge,pre-vaccine period. Minchillo and Shaffrey documented medical personnel working in a COVID-19 screening area,hospital workers cleaning the emergency department,and an exhausted staffer taking a break,among other moments. Peltz,meanwhile, conducted phone and Zoom interviews with outside experts to add context in the various formats.

For a fully rendered package that takes a close personal look at this important aspect of the pandemic,the team of Peltz,Bumsted, Shaffrey and Minchillo earns this week’s Best of the States award.

For AP’s complete coverage of the coronavirus:

AP’s hub for comprehensive all-formats coverage of the virus outbreak.

Understanding the Outbreak: stories explaining the new coronavirus.

One Good Thing: stories of hope and humanity amid the crisis.

Ground Game: Inside the Outbreak: AP’s podcast series.

Lives Lost: stories behind the victims of COVID-19.

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