US Nurses Lack Protections to Fight COVID-19
Sun, April 11, 2021

US Nurses Lack Protections to Fight COVID-19

NNU’s head Bonnie Castillo told US news provider ABC News that nurses in the country lack personal protective equipment. / Photo by: morganka via 123rf


US nurses are now on the frontlines of the war against the coronavirus pandemic but the executive director of National Nurses United (NNU), the largest union for registered nurses in the United States, says that they lack the protections they need for the job.

Lack of Personal Protective Equipment Among Nurses

NNU’s head Bonnie Castillo told US news provider ABC News that nurses in the country lack personal protective equipment. This, in turn, could lead to more infections in the hospital and among the family members of these nurses. “Their heart is aching,” she said. The situation has become increasingly frustrating among them as they don’t have the protections needed to do their job.

Every day, the organization would hear from nurses that they don’t have sufficient resources to help them confront the pandemic. These protections include respirators, head coverings, covers for their feet and legs, and appropriate gowns. Instead, they are only given a pair of surgical gloves, a paper gown, and a surgical mask. These are not going to protect the nurses and consequently, they will not be able to protect anyone else in need of their service. NNU represents a total of 150,000 registered nurses in the United States.

Castillo also criticized hospitals for not doing enough, saying that some nurses even brought their N95 masks but they were still not allowed to use these protections. The executive director warned that if nurses become infected, they would have to self-isolate, thus risking shortage of nurses. They are required to self-isolate to prevent exposing other patients in the hospital to the virus, particularly those with heart conditions and cancer.  It is “affecting our whole community” and the nation.

She also pointed out the lack of coordination between federal, state, and local agencies. It has led to confusion regarding when it would be appropriate for people to go to the hospital. What they lack is a cohesive and comprehensive public health response, which begins by educating the public when they should go to the emergency room and when not to. Because of confusion and, in a few cases, panic and anxiety, everyone goes to the ER. When that happens, people could be potentially exposed to the virus.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has asked the public who are experiencing mild flu-like symptoms to isolate first in their homes and ask for directions on what they should do next by calling their primary care provider. Only those who have severe breathing problems are asked to call 911 for immediate medical care. Knowing when it is necessary to go to the ER not only protects the person entering but also those inside the hospital, including patients who are seeking care for other conditions and the medical staff too.


Only those who have severe breathing problems are asked to call 911 for immediate medical care. / Photo by: Antonio Guillem via 123rf


Call for a Comprehensive Plan in All Hospitals

Castillo calls for the need to have a comprehensive plan in all hospitals where the patients are directed. It begins at every entrance in the hospital. She also praised nurses for fighting the pandemic head-on. They don’t go the other way, instead “they go into the disaster.” Nurses are experiencing anxiety because they know that they are incurring exposure and do not want to bring it home to their families. Although they are used to the “life and death pressure” because of the nature of their work, what is driving their anxiety is that hospitals are not doing everything they can to give them what they need so they can deliver care to the patients. “These are some of the most courageous men and women I've ever worked with,” she said, referring to the nurses in the union.

1 Mask per Day

Seattle, a city in Washington, has been hit the hardest. Some nurses in the ER are just washing and reusing their gowns, gloves, and surgical masks. This is according to media company Fox6. These doctors and nurses may be working on a patient for hours before they learn that they are positive for the virus. Seattle-based MultiCare Auburn Medical Center’s emergency physician Dr. Stephen Anderson told Fox6 that he is telling his staff to guard their masks with their life because it is their life. The market value of a face mask in the US in 2002 was 100 million and increased to 200 million in 2017, based on database company Statista. The demand for face masks this year has surely surged.

Many hospitals in the virus epicenter of Washington state, which now leads in the number of coronavirus deaths in the US, lack efficient N95 respirator masks as they were quickly sold out the moment the virus reached the country. US Vice President Mike Pence also said that they are urging construction companies to donate masks, which they are using to protect their employees from fumes. Extra masks and equipment are sent by the federal government to the state but it is still not clear when it will be distributed to the doctors and nurses. The Surgeon General has also urged the public to stop buying face masks and only wear it if they are taking of someone sick or if they sneeze or cough when they are in public.

A 40-year-old room physician working at the EvergreenHealth Medical Center, also in Seattle, was in critical condition because of the virus. Anderson shared that the physician was breathing through a ventilator but was stable. Another physician from the University of Washington Medical Center has tested positive for the COVID-19 but no further information was provided about the doctor’s condition.

As of March 18, 2020, the total number of COVID-19 in the US, by state, are as follows: New York (1,374), Washington (907), California (722), New Jersey (268), Massachusetts (218), Florida (211), Louisiana (196), Colorado (183), Illinois (160), Georgia (146), Texas (101), Pennsylvania (101), Tennessee (73), Wisconsin (72), Connecticut (68), Virginia (67), Ohio (67), Oregon (65), Michigan (65), Minnesota (60), Maryland (57), Utah (52), Nevada (48), South Carolina (47), North Carolina (42), Alabama (39), Nebraska (38), Maine (32), Washington DC (31), Indiana (30), Iowa (29), New Hampshire (26), Kentucky (26), Rhode Island (23), New Mexico (23), Arkansas (22), Mississippi (21), Arizona (20), and other states with below 20 cases.

Doctors and nurses on the front lines are going to suffer the most casualties. The question now is, who is going to protect these protectors?