US nurses honour colleagues who lost their lives to COVID-19 in a protest at the White House

Screen shot from USA Today show

Nurses from around the US gathered outside the White House on Tuesday in honour of the nurses who died of COVID-19 and to demand mass production of personal protective equipment.

National Nurses United (NNU), the largest union of nurses in the country, organised the protest to call attention to the thousands of health care workers nationwide who were infected by the coronavirus because of lack of protective equipment (PPE).

Donning face masks and bandanas while practising social distancing, the nurses read out forty-six names of the known US nurses who had lost their lives to COVID-19.

“Instead of places of healing, hospitals have become places of infection,” said a nurse at the protest.

“Right now, the CDC (Centre of Disease Control and Protection) (the nation’s protection agency) is telling hospitals that it is recommended that they only provide us with bandanas, scarfs and surgical masks.

“Because of this… the government is in effect telling hospitals it is okay if we get sick… It is okay if we die.”

NNU said nurses have been demanding the Trump administration’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) instigate an emergency temporary standard so that healthcare workers are provided with the optimal PPE. Yet despite petitioning the government for the standard the nurses have not received a response.

The US Health and Human Services Department estimates the country will need 3.5 billion N95 respirators to be used throughout the pandemic.

Nurses are demanding mass production of PPE, including N95 respirators, face shields, gowns, gloves and shoe coverings, as well as ventilators and COVID-19 testing kits.

Yet, with the lack of mass production of equipment and no federal health and safety standard, the union said nurses and other healthcare workers in many hospitals across the country will continue to be exposed to the virus without adequate PPE to protect them.

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