National Nurses United (NNU), the largest union of registered nurses in America, announced today that areas of the country which have loosened shelter-in-place measures must close again and work harder, along with the federal government, to contain COVID-19 and protect public health. Nurses say the recent all-time high in positive cases and hospitalizations in many locations across the country underscores their demand.
“Registered nurses have been sounding the alarm on COVID-19 since January, calling on the government and our employers to take strong steps to protect our patients, our colleagues, our families, and our communities. That was six months ago, and not enough has been done,” said NNU Executive Director Bonnie Castillo, RN. “Yet, we have seen the country reopen as if everything was resolved, and this recent explosion in cases just goes to show that was definitely not the case.”
National Nurses United had already released a statement on April 28, warning it was not safe to reopen, and a second statement on June 2 in solidarity with unions representing 230,000 nurses, saying the same. Nurses had called on—and are still calling on—the government and employers to prioritize public health by meeting the following criteria before reopening can happen safely:
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● Nurses and other health care workers must have the optimal personal protective equipment (PPE) they need, including powered air-purifying respirators, coveralls that incorporate head coverings and shoe coverings, and gloves. Results from an NNU survey of the nation’s nurses conducted from April 10 through June 24, 2020 show that 85 percent of nurses are still being asked to reuse PPE, although there is no scientifically proven way to do that safely.
“COVID-19 patients end up in the hospital, where nurses and health care workers are still—in June—being told to reuse PPE until it is misshapen and falling apart. Why on earth would it be okay to lift shelter-in-place restrictions and therefore increase positive cases without doing anything to get PPE into our hands?” said Castillo. “Nurses and health care workers play such a critical role in helping stop the spread of this virus, but only if we ourselves are protected on the front lines.”
● President Trump must activate the Defense Production Act (DPA) to order the mass production of PPE. To effectively protect patients and the public, nurses and health care workers need to use PPE as it was intended. For N95 respirators and other equipment, that means single use only. Since this pandemic began, President Trump has had the power to ensure enough PPE is available to use safely by ordering the mass production of PPE. He hasn’t done so, and nurses demand the DPA is fully activated immediately.