Nurses Who Battled Virus in New York Confront Friends Back Home Who Say It’s a Hoax

“I’ve done my part, so if you choose to go, that’s on you,” Ms. Bernal said she told her mother.

Heather Smith, a nurse from Topsail Island, off the coast of North Carolina, who worked at Elmhurst Hospital Center in Queens, struggled to hold back tears when describing how she felt when her brother said he did not believe the virus was real. When Ms. Smith started typing a rant on Facebook, she said, “I realized how angry I was.” She said she could not get out of her mind the images of patients who died alone: “No one understands how serious and how traumatizing it is.”

Courtney Sudduth, a nurse from Oklahoma City, said that when she arrived in New York people from back home wanted to know: Was it really as bad as the news media made it sound? Yes, she would tell them, describing the 18-wheel refrigerated truck that was parked outside Mount Sinai Beth Israel hospital in Manhattan and used to store bodies.

Even that was not enough. Her grandmother in Mississippi still does not wear a mask when she goes grocery shopping, she said. “Oh, I’ll be fine,” Ms. Sudduth recalled her grandmother as saying.

One of Ms. Sudduth’s brothers, who lives in Mississippi, believed conspiracy theories about the virus and continued to socialize at cookouts — until last month, she said, when he came down with the virus.

“That changed his mind,” Ms. Sudduth, 30, said.

Even as the number of coronavirus cases in Oklahoma has skyrocketed in recent weeks, people around town still stare at her when she wears a mask. “A lot of people still have the mentality that this is being blown out of proportion,” she said.

A hospital in Oklahoma City opened a new unit last week to accommodate the increasing number of virus patients. Sunday was Ms. Sudduth’s first day on the job.

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