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Married ER nurses share what it's like working together during coronavirus pandemic

Erin and Zac Ownbey were featured "TODAY Heroes" for their work as ER nurses during the coronavirus pandemic.
Erin and Zac Ownbey have been battling the coronavirus together as emergency room nurses in rural Georgia.
Erin and Zac Ownbey have been battling the coronavirus together as emergency room nurses in rural Georgia. dianeownbey/Twitter
/ Source: TODAY

Erin and Zac Ownbey are both emergency room nurses at a hospital in rural Georgia. Initially featured as "TODAY Heroes" on Friday, April 3, they both spoke to TODAY about what it's like working in a hectic emergency room together as the coronavirus pandemic continues to sweep the nation.

Zac, a nurse practitioner, and Erin, an Air Force nurse, said that while the situation in their area of Dalton, Georgia isn't as severe as it is in more urban areas of the country, they're still seeing a surge in patients due to the coronavirus outbreak.

"It kind of fluctuates day to day," Zac said. "We're facing some challenges ... It's putting a pretty significant strain on our ancillary departments and our ICUs and that kind of thing, but for our size and location, I think we're handling it pretty well."

The couple said that the population in the area tends to be older and their hospital is the only health care option within 30 miles, which creates some extra difficulties.

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"We do the best we can with what is available," Erin said. "We are making do with what we have, right now."

Photos of the couple, shared on Twitter by Zac's mother Diane, show the pair in full personal protective equipment (PPE). Zac said that luckily, they haven't had many difficulties with having enough PPE, and have been accepting donations from local companies.

"It seems to be better than it was when all this started, for sure," Erin said.

Photos shared by Zac Ownbey's mother, Diane, show the couple at work.
Photos shared by Zac Ownbey's mother, Diane, show the couple at work. dianeownbey/Twitter

However, the end of their shifts doesn't mean the end of the day — the couple have two young children at home.

"We do our best, when we get home, to be sure that we take our scrubs off, we shower, we wash our hands, we do those basic things, before we come in contact with our children," Erin said. "It's definitely difficult, and luckily we have grandparents that help out while we are at work."

While nearby relatives have stepped in to help with childcare, there's still the matter of soothing their fears about the virus and helping them with online distance learning.

"They are of course doing a lot of hand washing these days and a lot of excess cleaning," said Erin, who has a degree in early childhood education and has stepped into the role of teacher when at home. "Their routine has definitely been altered because of school. We're doing a lot of home schooling. It's definitely eye-opening for them, I think, and they're learning more every day about what we do at work."

Zac said that while the children, a seven-year-old girl and an eleven-year-old boy, aren't used to being out of school for so long, they're "doing pretty well" under the circumstances.

Both Erin and Zac said that working side by side in the emergency room is an experience they wouldn't change.

"It is kind of a cool experience to share this with someone who knows explicitly what you're going through, and they can understand," said Zac. "If you had been in a relationship with someone who doesn't work in the medical field, who doesn't work long hours, it's hard for someone to understand the intimacy you have with coworkers, it's extremely kind of unique for us."

"Absolutely," Erin agreed.