As winter approaches and the COVID-19 surge continues to get worse in New Jersey, hospitalizations are on the rise.

For many nurses, the second wave is an all-too familiar reminder of the nightmare they went through in the spring, when hundreds of patients were dying every day.

Judy Schmidt, the CEO of the New Jersey State Nurses Association, said this put a tremendous stress on nurses.

“We’re starting to see what we would call post-traumatic stress disorder. The nurses are having some difficulty dealing with additional caseloads and stresses on a regular basis," she said.

She said the high number of patient deaths early on in the pandemic was shocking and debilitating for many nurses.

“And now we have this resurgence of the virus, so this is now resurrecting all of these memories that they’ve had about what happened, hoping and praying that it doesn’t happen again," she said.

Because the coronavirus can be passed from one person to another so easily, nurses essentially become a patient’s extended family because their real family members are not allowed in the room. During the height of the pandemic, nurses were losing several of their patients every day.

“It’s extremely stressful, extremely emotionally draining for these nurses,” she said. “To be honest with you, I don’t know how a lot of these nurses who witnessed all of this death are able to continue to work.”

Nurses are worried about whether there will be ample supplies of masks, gowns and gloves. They're also worried about staffing when colleagues get sick.

She said these worries and memories of so many deaths in the spring can become so stressful that some nurses are simply no longer able to function.

“They relive that experience over and over again and it is similar to being in a war. It’s a war against the virus,” Schmidt said.

Schmidt noted tremendous progress has been made but we still do not have a standard of care for medications and treatments to treat the virus.

Schmidt said advance practice psychiatric nurses as well as psychiatrists, psychologists and social workers are all involved in mental health counseling for nurses.

She also pointed out the New Jersey State Nurses Association’s Healthy Nurse Group has been offering weekly videoconferences on mental health issues.

“Help is there,” she said. “We hope this will decrease the stress level these providers are under.”

In the meantime, the public can also lend a hand.

“Please follow the CDC guidelines of masking, social distancing and — very important — hand hygiene, wash your hand," she said. "We need to do everything we can to try and keep levels of this virus low.”

You can contact reporter David Matthau at

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