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Demand for ICU nurses is up 281% as hot spots surge across the country

Heroes. They don't always wear capes these days. They mainly wear PPE, right? They are the doctors and nurses on the front lines of this fight, and as COVID spreads they're spread thin. The demand for ICU nurses is off the charts right now, up nearly 300 percent from last year nationwide. That's according to Vivian Health, a company that matches traveling nurses to the areas that need them the most. We met two of these heroes hitting the road to save lives. Here's CNBC's Andrea Day.

Meet Rachel Norton and Yvette Palamecki, ICU nurses who are crossing the country chasing COVID. They're spending months on the road, moving from city to city to take on the pandemic.

"I'm a little tired this morning. These long weeks are catching up a little bit."

And they're giving us a first hand look at life on the front lines.

"I know what COVID-19 has done to people. It literally has destroyed entire families."

Yvette lives in Houston, but was working in an ICU in Miami when cases began surging in New York City.

"I knew I belonged there."

So she flew straight into the storm.

"We had to lift the burden off the ER to be able to start taking care of these patients so they would at least have a chance."

When the outbreak hit her hometown she went back to fight some more.

"I literally jumped into you know another crisis."

And so did Rachel.

"I've probably shed more tears during this pandemic than I ever have."

After battling COVID in her hometown Denver she left for the front lines in Phoenix.

"[It's]really hard to convey to a family member how sick their loved one is without them being at the bedside. They would be standing outside the glass doors kind of sobbing and saying goodbye, and I would be in the room holding the patient's hand."

"You know when you hear the families begging for their loved one's life on the phone or you see them crying on FaceTime...nothing in my career or in my lifetime has tested me more than this experience."

But they say they'll keep on fighting until it's over.

"I'm here for my patients. I'm here to help my patients. Seeing people get better is invaluable."

"Hopefully in our lifetime a pandemic will never hit again, and this was the opportunity for me to go and do something great."

And, Jeff, this is such a tough job out there especially right now but both of these nurses say they can't imagine doing anything else and what really keeps them going is watching their patients actually walk out of the ICU after months and months of being so sick. These patients even get a standing ovation on their way out.

Rachel Norton BSN, RN

Rachel Norton BSN, RN

I have been a critical care nurse since 2007. I grew up in the northeast but enjoy every corner of the country. My passions are people and travel. Travel nursing allows me to meet amazing people and satisfy my wanderlust. I love inspiring other nurses to travel and expand their practice.

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