Healthcare workers lives are literally being put at risk. We are at the early stages of a mounting public health crises of monumental proportions that will cripple our already strained healthcare system unless we take immediate action to protect our nurses and other healthcare personnel. If healthcare workers are not protected, patients are not protected. If healthcare workers are not protected, the community is not protected. If healthcare workers are not protected COVID-19 will continue to spread. Exposed or sick healthcare workers cannot be at work to provide care and our healthcare system will not have the capacity to respond to a widespread outbreak. A shortage of nurses and other healthcare workers endangers every one of us. It’s that simple.
Nurses and other healthcare personnel need respirators, N-95 or higher protection, RIGHT NOW, so they can do their jobs without fear of becoming infected or spreading the disease. Without respirators, healthcare workers are guaranteed to have preventable exposures to COVID-19. Some healthcare workers will get sick. Some healthcare workers will die. It has already happened in the U.S. and other countries.
Facemasks are NOT respirators and do not offer protection from aerosol (airborne) transmission of the coronavirus. That is not what they are designed to do. The CDC’s updated guidance for healthcare personnel caring for suspected or confirmed COVID-19 patients which says facemasks are an “acceptable alternative” to N-95 respirators when there is a shortage is
SHAMEFUL, and not based on the science of coronavirus transmission. Our frontline, dedicated, nurses and other healthcare personnel want to provide care, but they should not be forced to choose between caring for patients and putting their own safety, the safety of their families, and the safety of patients and the community at risk. That is precisely what the CDC’s current guidance is recommending healthcare workers and employers do.
The CDC has also rolled back their recommendations for healthcare workers who are exposed to a suspected or confirmed COVID-19 patient be removed from work and quarantined. The updated recommendations which allow exposed health care workers to continue to work with patients after an exposure, when the healthcare workers may be infectious before showing symptoms, puts patients and others at risk. Instead, employers should provide two weeks of paid, precautionary leave for nurses or other healthcare workers after a COVID-19 exposure.
Respirators are not the only protections needed for healthcare workers and facilities. All healthcare employers must provide a safe workplace and protections for their employees, including engineering controls such as adequate ventilation and/or negative pressure, Airborne Infection Isolation Rooms (AIIR’s) for selected patients and procedures. In addition to respiratory protection, nurses and other healthcare personnel also need an adequate supply of all other personal protective equipment, such as gloves, gowns, goggles, facemasks, and face sheilds.
We need the availability of widespread testing in our communities to know who is infected to be able to isolate or quarantine individuals when they are infectious but before they show symptoms to slow the undetected spread. We need new or existing facilities dedicated to the care of COVID-19 patients. We need to hold our government accountable at all levels and all available resources must be allocated for this cause.
Every single one of us needs our healthcare workers to be safe and we must demand the protections they need. Their lives and our lives depend on it. The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases is rising in the U.S. every day. We must take action NOW.
What You Can Do
Health care workers need adequate protection RIGHT NOW! The federal Health and Human Services/CDC must release N-95’s from the National Stockpile so they can be allocated where they are needed. Healthcare facilities must request an adequate supply of N-95’s from the state Department of Health and the Governor’s office should make the request to the CDC.
Demand the CDC reverse their dangerous guidance about facemasks for frontline healthcare workers in contact with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 patients.
Demand COVID-19 testing be significantly expanded and made available on a large scale, at no cost, to all people in the U.S. to identify COVID-19 cases so anyone who is confirmed can remain at home unless urgent medical care is needed. Given the limited availability of testing at this moment, testing (including periodic testing), should be prioritized for healthcare personnel, as well as for symptomatic patients at high risk.