Since then, the picture has worsened significantly. The immunity from those first vaccines may be on the wane. While recent data on breakthrough cases and deaths for all Americans is not readily available, recent federal data from nursing homes shows a sharp uptick in cases among people who were fully vaccinated but had not yet gotten a booster shot.

To see how far things have devolved in Saginaw, one needs only to spend time on the seventh floor of Covenant. There, in a slender hallway with a low ceiling, nurses buzz in and out of rooms. The floor is busy but not panicky, with the whirring and beeping of machines making up most of the soundtrack. Many of the sick are sedated and on ventilators, unable to speak with their doctors. Others are confused.

“This illness is dehumanizing,” said Dr. Amjad Nader, who cares for people in that unit. He added, “Sometimes I don’t see light in the eyes of my patients.”

Many of the caregivers on that floor have become virus experts. They talk about the satisfaction of calling a patient’s spouse if the patient no longer needs a ventilator after weeks of treatment. They lament the frustration of having no cure. They grieve every time they lose a patient.

Ms. Klingenberg, the nurse, volunteered to work with coronavirus patients at the start of the pandemic and has passed up opportunities to take other assignments.

“Mostly, it’s for my co-workers,” she said. “I don’t want to quit on them. And somebody has to do it. And we’re apparently the people who have chosen to do it.”

But the pandemic was not something she could leave at work. Family members tested positive. Early this year, when Ms. Klingenberg was 26 weeks pregnant, she tested positive too.

Unlike most women in their 20s, she had a severe case and was hospitalized at the University of Michigan. For a time, she faced the possibility of intubation. Then, after about a week, she started to improve. She was able to go home. Her baby was healthy and did not have to be delivered early.

The experience and the fear, she said, now helps her connect with her patients getting the same breathing treatments she received months ago.

“They have these moments of distress because this mass is strapped onto you, you can’t take it off, it’s pushing air into your lungs,” Ms. Klingenberg said. “Your natural reaction is to fight against that. So I can help, I feel like, calm them down and tell them exactly: ‘I understand what this feels like. I know exactly what you’re going through.’”

At other moments, she said, the trauma and the relentlessness of the pandemic — wave after wave — feel like too much.

“I’ll be taking care of these patients and all of a sudden I’ll be right back at U. of M., and I get flashbacks sometimes,” she said. “So I’m still trying to heal from that almost-near-death experience. And then I came right back to Covid, which was my choice. But it’s a little scary.”

Lola Fadulu contributed reporting.


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