It has been five weeks since Sunitha*, a 30-year-old nurse, who was trained to treat COVID-19 patients day in and day out, tested positive for the coronavirus.
Sunitha, who was working at the COVID-19 ward in Hyderabadâ€™s Niloufer hospital, when she received the news, says that her worst fears came true when she tested positive.
Her 6-year old daughter was also tested positive for coronavirus, as a primary contact. After begging and pleading with hospital authorities, Sunitha was able to arrange another bed for her daughter right next to hers.
Recalling the days before she tested positive, Sunitha says, "One day, there was a patient who tested positive and a notice was put up stating that those who treated that patient on April 14, 15 and 16 should be home quarantined. This did not happen. Doctors told us to continue working with our personal protective equipment on."
"Later on I also interacted with one of the security guards in our hospital, and we came to know that he tested positive too. And then I have also given my samples, after which the results returned positive," she adds.
Till date, she is unable to zero down, the source of her infection.
"I am still not sure how and when I contracted the virus. Was it while treating a COVID-19 patient or while interacting with someone? Also we had to literally fight everyday to get PPE kits. Due to the lack of N95 masks, I was given a normal surgical mask. I don't know if I got it because of that," Sunitha says.
She is now recovered and discharged along with her daughter. She is on leave and in a dilemma over going back to work and also looking for alternate jobs.
Healthcare workers worried for their safety
Sunitha was one among the first health care workers who tested positive for the coronavirus in Telangana, after which healthcare workers in the state became extremely worried for their own safety.
And this is not the lone case. Day by day, the number of cases among frontline workers fighting COVID-19, be it doctors, nurses, sanitation workers or policemen are increasing.
Forty-nine healthcare workers from Osmania Medical College (OMC), four from Gandhi Hospital and 26 from Nizam's Institute of Medical Sciences (NIMS) have tested positive so far.
Health care professionals say that things are getting out of hand and that it would become difficult to treat the increasing number of patients if the number of healthcare professionals on the frontline decreases.
"We have seen a surge in the number of patients joining Gandhi Hospital after the lockdown was relaxed. And the existing staff are overburdened at the COVID-19 wards too," a nurse working at Gandhi Hospital in COVID-19 wards tells TNM.
Our family members are panic-stricken and some of us are not going home, fearing that our daily members will also get infected. Whenever there is any positive case, our families are more worried about us, though we have gotten used to it and treat it as any other disease,â€ť another nurse states.
Doctors that TNM spoke to say that Osmania General Hospital and other government hospitals have turned into hotspots for the coronavirus.
"In Petlaburj hospital there are at least 20 doctors infected with the coronavirus. However the hospital premises were not sanitised immediately. That is the level of neglect here," says a junior doctor from Gandhi Hospital.
â€śIn Osmania General Hospital, which is treating non-COVID-19 patients, to maintain physical distance, has become a challenge. The place has become riskier and has clear signs of community spread as there are several COVID-19 patients whose sources have not yet been traced,â€ť he adds.
Sanitation workers at hospitals and police under risk
Doctors aren't the only ones affected. Sanitation workers and policemen too, feel that they are exposed to the virus without adequate protection. In May last week, sanitation workers at hospitals boycotted their duties for an hour demanding hospital authorities to provide enough protection for all the sanitation staff. Despite this, there has been no action in this regard.
Sanitation workers and patient care staff at Gandhi Hospital say that one of them was affected with the COVID-19, who used to take care of the disposal of the dead bodies of the coronavirus patients.
"Only people who are working near the COVID-19 patients are being given the PPE kits and the rest of the ward boys and sanitation staff are not being provided with minimum safety measures. Nobody is bothered about us,â€ť says one of the ward boys at Gandhi Hospital.
Not just the health care workers, but the Telangana police, who are on patrolling duty, are also at a risk of contracting the infection.
According to the sources from Gandhi Hospital, 30 police personnel have tested positive for coronavirus. All the cases from the police department are placed in the 4th floor of Gandhi Hospital.
Police personnels say that they fear for the safety of their spouses and children as they have no choice but to be at risk of contracting the virus. "Initially, we were supplied with masks and sanitisers, how long do we survive with one bottle of sanitisers and a pair of masks? Eventually the supplies reduced, and we even had to buy our own masks and sanitisers. But we are in a situation, where we cannot escape," a police officer says.
"Moreover when we are working on the ground, performing duties we never know who is positive or who is negative. We are also people at the end of the day and are at risk of being infected,â€ť he adds.