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Exhausted Texas ICU Nurse Says She's Scared About The Upcoming End To The State Mask Order

AUSTIN (CBSDFW.COM/CNN) - A Texas woman has spent months caring for COVID-19 patients pouring into hospitals as the virus raged across the state -- and the country.

"It has been devastating", ICU nurse Brittany Smart said minutes after the end of her shift.

Healthcare workers had begun to see a light at the end of the tunnel, she said, amid ongoing vaccinations and after several weeks of declining COVID-19 cases. But that was "shut down" when Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced he was lifting the statewide mask mandate and capacity limits on businesses, Smart added.

In a recent Instagram post the cardio-thoracic nurse said, "I give up. I've seen too many bodies stacked like firewood. Y'all don't understand, or you just don't care. This isn't political. These are FUC**** HUMANS! & they are DYING."

Nurse Brittany 2
(credit: @brittany_blair14/Instagram)

Smart said she doesn't think now is a safe time to take away the mask mandate and called the governor's move "nerve-racking."

In remarks on Tuesday, March 3 Governor Abbott said, "Make no mistake, COVID-19 has not disappeared, but it is clear from the recoveries, vaccinations, reduced hospitalizations, and safe practices that Texans are using that state mandates are no longer needed. Today's announcement does not abandon safe practices that Texans have mastered over the past year. Instead, it is a reminder that each person has a role to play in their own personal safety and the safety of others. With this executive order, we are ensuring that all businesses and families in Texas have the freedom to determine their own destiny."

COVID-19 trends across the US may have been encouraging for a while, but Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky warned earlier this week that recent steep declines in cases now seem to be "leveling off at still very high numbers."

The US has averaged more than 65,000 new COVID-19 cases daily for the past week, according to Johns Hopkins University data. More than 46,300 people remain hospitalized with the virus nationwide, according to the COVID Tracking Project.

Texas announced more than 6,600 new COVID-19 cases Tuesday and more than 270 newly reported COVID-19 deaths, according to state data.

More than 5,600 COVID-19 patients remain in the state's hospitals, the data shows.

"It's not like the COVID patients are gone. It's not like they're not dying. It's just that we no longer need a refrigerated truck outside, is the deal," Smart said. "We don't have people in the hallways anymore, stretchers. So, breathing is a little bit easier but... it's not better."

And experts have warned the country could see another surge in just a matter of weeks, fueled by highly contagious variants already circulating in the US. That's why, they've cautioned, it's critical not to let up on safety measures just yet.

"My biggest fear is that we're going to lose more people," Smart said.

(© Copyright 2021 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The CNN Wire™ & © 2021 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company contributed to this report.)

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