The inauguration of America’s 46th president, Joe Biden, earlier this month and his immediate actions to address the coronavirus pandemic, economy, immigration and climate change have been applauded by US nurses, who hold hope the change in administration can protect worker health and safety and provide economic relief for millions across the country.
Since entering office on 20 January, President Biden has signed off on dozens of executive orders and actions related to COVID-19 and the nation’s response to the pandemic.
His first executive order was to launch a “100 Days Masking Challenge”, which asks Americans to wear masks for 100 days, and requiring masks, physical distancing and other measures while on federal property.
A range of executive orders and notable actions followed, including establishing the position of a COVID-19 response coordinator within the executive office, re-joining the World Health Organization (WHO), re-joining the Paris climate accord, driving economic relief through strategies such as pausing federal student loan payments, establishing a COVID-19 Health Equity Taskforce, reviewing and assessing the inventory of pandemic response supplies, such as personal protective equipment (PPE), and better protecting workers from the virus.
Other key commitments included updated CDC guidance based on guidance, paid sick and family leave for more workers, including nurses and healthcare workers, increased federal support to boost healthcare capacity and respond to surge situations, and establishing a national COVID-19 testing strategy.
Earlier this month, prior to entering office, President Biden proposed a $1.9 trillion Rescue Plan that included:
- Support for an Occupational Safety and Health Administration-enforceable Emergency Temporary Standard to protect healthcare and other essential workers.
- Invoking the Defense Production Act to mass produce the medical supplies, including optimal PPE, testing equipment and vaccines in the volumes required to tackle the pandemic.
- Resources for the nationwide scale of contact tracing needed.
- Emergency paid sick leave for millions of people in the US.
- A more robust vaccination program, with free vaccinations.
- Extending the eviction and foreclosure moratoriums until 30 September 2021.
- Raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour
Leaders from National Nurses United (NNU), the largest union of registered nurses in the US, met regularly with the Biden transition team in the months leading up to his inauguration and have praised his pandemic response plans.
US nurses have been urging the federal government to implement their proposals since the start of the pandemic to combat COVID-19, but the calls were ignored by the outgoing Trump administration.
With President Biden now in office, NNU believes his new National Strategy for the COVID-19 Response and Pandemic Preparedness, released on 21 January; executive orders and actions related to COVID-19, and his stimulus American Rescue plan, offers real hope for change.
“In his first days in office, President Biden has shown us that he is listening to the concerns and the expertise of nurses by taking immediate action on the worker health and safety protections and broader public health protections that we have been demanding,” said RN Bonnie Castillo, executive director of National Nurses United.
According to Ms Castillo, nurses are looking forward to working with the president to begin implementing his National Strategy for COVID-19 Response and Pandemic Preparedness immediately.
“We are particularly pleased that the president signed strong executive orders to protect worker health and safety and to improve the medical supply chain,” she said.
“In signing these orders, the president has begun the process of issuing an Occupational Safety and Health emergency temporary standard to protect workers during the COVID-19 pandemic, and has directed his administration to ensure the increased production and distribution of critical medical supplies, including PPE.”
Ms Costillo said the stimulus package proposed by the president would provide immediate economic relief and supports for millions of struggling Americans, with NNU urging Congress to pass the American Rescue Plan.
She said nurses had been on the frontline of the pandemic since it began and deserved full protection and safety as they continue to put their lives on the line.
“For nearly a year, we have been exhausted both physically and emotionally, and consistently and unnecessarily put at risk at work. Hundreds of nurses have died due to lack of protections at work. The actions that President Biden has taken have given us relief and hope after a traumatic year. We’re ready to get to work to make this COVID-19 response plan a reality.”