February 22, 2021
COVID-19 and travel at SEA Airport
In this series, we check in with people using Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA) for essential travel. While leisure travel has been largely put on hold during COVID-19 as we all work together to limit interactions and flatten the curve, we know some of you need to travel for work, family, emergencies, and other reasons that can’t wait. We are here for you now and whenever you are ready to return.
Emergency Room nurse Kayla Bet was in the middle of her three-month travel nurse rotation in Sacramento when the pandemic set in in March. Bet loves the adventures and new experiences travel nursing brings and she had selected Sacramento for its proximity to hiking at Yosemite National Park, skiing at Lake Tahoe, exploring Big Sur, and checking out Napa Valley and San Francisco. But things didn’t go exactly as planned.
“I had to self-isolate and shelter in place when I wasn’t working. I’d go to work, sleep, and on my days off I’d try to find an activity to do that had yet to be restricted.”
While her dreams of visiting State and National Parks were placed on hold, Bet leaned on her coworkers to help make it through.
“As a travel nurse, I always ask when I’m interviewing for a position if they are a traveler-friendly hospital” she said. “In Sacramento, I was lucky enough to work alongside my friend Liat (who I had previously worked with in Pennsylvania), as well as make new friends with many of the permanent staff members. They were very welcoming and treated me as one of their own. It was great to have them during those uncertain times.”
She having people to talk to made a big difference.
“You’re strong when you’re doing your work and put on your professional look and gear. You do it because it’s your job. But it’s also nice to have people to turn to who understand how hard it can be too.”
She ended up staying an extra two months in her position to help out as the virus was hitting California hard. Travel within the United States was discouraged.
After her rotation was over she drove North to Lacey, Washington, to visit a friend and check out Seattle, where she hoped she’d land her next rotation. She left her car with her friend, planning to pick it up when she (hopefully) started her next assignment in Seattle.
Bet flew out of SEA Airport to see her family in Allentown, Pennsylvania in June on an Angel Flight West flight, operated by Alaska Airlines. Earlier in the pandemic, Angel Flight West and Alaska Airlines partnered to give miles for non-emergency travel to health care workers on the front lines. Bet hadn’t seen her family in over three months as she was away from her home for COVID-19 relief work and was planning to attend her brother’s small family wedding.
“I’m thankful that Angel Flight West and Alaska Airlines allowed me to get me home to see my family; it was hard being isolated across the country from them with so many unknowns while working with COVID-19 patients in a hospital.”
Bet said there were about 25 to 30 passengers on board the flight spread throughout the plane to maintain distance. Most people seemed to be traveling for essential reasons. The man sitting near her was traveling home for a funeral. Everyone wore masks, flight attendants handed out sanitary wipes, seating was spread out, and there was no inflight food service.
Because of COVID-19, the travel nurse market was down during summer months. But after a few months at home with family, in September, she flew back to Seattle to start a 13-week contract with Aya Healthcare at a Swedish Health facility.
Bet said traveling through SEA Airport felt safe and easy on both occasions.
Signs, airport staff, and floor decals informed passengers of masking and social distancing requirements. Hand sanitizing stations were also located throughout the airport.
“I felt very good about it,” Bet said. “The airport felt very safe. The second time I was there, I noticed more people traveling, but for the most part, people were keeping distance from one another.”
Airport staff was taking a lot of precautions: wearing gloves, washing hands, and wearing masks.
“Working with COVID-19 patients, our plan of care is changing every day with how we are treating people. With my own family so far away, the people I worked with and am working with now have stepped in as friends and family. We have been there for each other as the virus set in and as it continues to impact our nation. There were times that we had to figure out how to keep ourselves safe when there wasn’t enough PPE.”
Bet has seen COVID-19 cases rise and fall and then rise again since the beginning of the pandemic in March.
“We climbed up the hill in the spring, then it was down the hill early summer, and now we are going back up with COVID-19 numbers,” she said.
Bet gravitated towards Seattle because of the nearby opportunities for outdoor pursuits during her off hours that relieve her of the stress and emotional toll of her job.
“I wanted to go to a location where I could enjoy nature on a daily basis. The one thing everyone can do right now is get outside. It is good for our physical and mental well-being. Every day I have off on this assignment I am doing a trail, or I’m by the water, taking in the views. The job came in at the perfect time. I’ve explored the North Cascades, watched the sunset in Mount Rainier National Park, and have hiked some of the surrounding areas. I am living near the water and get to start my days off with a cup of coffee on the Sound. It has been amazing.”
“I have always been drawn to nursing as a career,” she said. “I’ve always cared about others. It is really beautiful the way you can help someone in their most critical moments. It is rewarding in many ways, especially when you can make someone better with your care. Nursing isn’t always the physical things. Sometimes it’s sitting at a patient’s bedside and just listening. Maybe it’s the story of how long they have been dealing with cancer, or why they have no family with them during their visit. We fill many roles. Nursing is about having an appreciation for others and genuinely caring for them when they cannot care for themselves.”
Growing up around her mom, who has type one diabetes, also inspired her to pursue nursing.
“She always has taken great care of herself and is very aware of her disease,” she said. “However, diabetes involves many factors. If any one of those factors is off, such as a really high or really low blood sugar level, the person may not be able to care for themselves. I have known this since I was kid and have always thought about having to help her in those times.”
Bet said she is looking forward to gathering with family and friends again when it is considered safe.
“I want to be able to spend more time with my own family and friends without worrying about COVID-19,” she said. “I don’t want to have to worry about hugging or kissing them. As a travel nurse, I already don’t see them as often, so I want to focus on the time I do get to share with them.”
February 22, 2021
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