No mask? Not taking coronavirus seriously? Talk to this medical professional on the front lines – he’ll change your mind

“I wish the non-believers could walk half a day in my shoes. They’d become the most cautious people out there.” – Ervin Inocenio

It’s 6 a.m. last Wednesday, and Ervin Inocenio is reporting for work in the emergency room at Providence Saint Joseph’s Medical Center in Burbank, where he’s been employed the past 23 years as a respiratory therapist.

The hospital has two COVID-19 units – one for critical patients, one non-critical. Inocenio doesn’t know until he arrives in the morning which one he will be assigned to for the day, or if he’ll work the emergency room, like he is this day.

We often heap praise on the doctors and nurses on the frontlines of the coronavirus war, and they deserve it, but too often we neglect the people, like Inocenio, who stand side by side them.

By 10 a.m., Wednesday, the 48-year-old father of two is hooking up his first coronavirus victim of the day to a ventilator – an elderly man in severe respiratory distress.

His tests haven’t come back yet to confirm he’s COVID-19 positive, but nobody’s taking the chance. The doctor, nurse, and Inocenio are all “gowned up” – double gloved, face shield, the whole protocol. His tests come back positive for coronavirus.

By mid afternoon, he is transferred to the critical COVID-19 unit. That may be the last time Inocenio sees him, or he may be assigned to the unit the next day. Either way, he will check in on him because once you’ve formed that initial bond with a COVID-19 critical patient, you feel an emotional tie and obligation you’ve never felt before in this job, he says.

Inocenio thought he had seen it all in those 23 years, but nothing in his training or experience prepared him for the hell he’s seen the last four months since Patient Zero, age 54, was wheeled into his COVID-19unit – the first coronavirus patient at the hospital.

“It was new to everybody,” he says. “We were kind of winging it, but not really. We just didn’t know for sure how to treat this disease.”

He’s seen firsthand every day the struggle to beat the coronavirus. The ventilators working overtime to breath for people given a 1 % chance to survive, and the loneliness of being in isolation and having no family members or friends allowed to visit to hold your hand or whisper words of encouragement in your ear.

It’s just you and medical people “gowned up” to protect themselves. No contact with a human face, no expressions to read on them for a hint on how you’re doing, in those rare times you’re awake and not heavily sedated for the pain.

“I don’t talk to my family much about my day because it’s just too emotional, what you’re seeing and dealing with death this way. Seeing them die alone, no family or friends with them. I don’t like to talk about those things.

“It bothers me when I see on social media or the news people not taking this seriously, refusing to wear a mask. I feel like shouting, ‘come into this hospital with me and see how serious it is.’

“Walk in my shoes for half a day. All those non-believers will be the most cautious person after seeing what I see everyday. They say the second wave is coming, but I don’t know what they’re talking about because we’re still riding the first one. This is no joke.

“It’s made me tell my family how much I love them every day because you never know with coronavirus. You can die in less than a week without ever getting the chance to tell them. I even tell my friends I love them, as weird as that sounds, but that’s how I feel.

“I imagine it’s me lying in that bed all alone and so sick. You become more compassionate and super cautious.”

You wear your mask, and wash your hands because it’s no joke. You listen to the people on the frontlines, not the politicians and talking heads in the rear.

You get smart and wake up. You walk in Ervin Inocenio’s shoes, and see the truth.

Dennis McCarthy’s column runs on Sunday. He can be reached at


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