Lives are on the line in November.
National Nurses United backs Biden.
They washed her hair, talked to her, prayed for her, but the registered nurses at Kaiser Permanente in Fresno, Calif. couldn’t save their beloved coworker Sandra Oldfield, RN. After she and her colleagues cared for patients without safe personal protective equipment (PPE), Oldfield lost her life to COVID-19 in May, 2020.
We’d like to think the deaths of Oldfield; 9 other members of my union, National Nurses United (NNU); and more than 1200 other nurses and health care workers across the country during this pandemic were not in vain. But it’s July, and frontline health care workers still don’t have the protections we need.
That’s one of many reasons why NNU, the largest union of registered nurses in the country, recently announced our endorsement of Vice President Joe Biden. (You can read about the other reasons, including his support for unions, here.) Let’s be clear: The COVID-19 deaths in America were not inevitable. They are the result of President Trump and his administration abandoning nurses, other health care and frontline workers, and the public at large.
Trump ignored the pandemic for two months, pushed for so-called treatments that were not scientifically tested to be effective and safe, provided faulty testing kits, and over many months still has not engaged with the mass testing and contact tracing required. He pulled the United States out of the World Health Organization, refused to use his power to order mass production of PPE, downgraded guidance to health care employers about the optimal PPE required, refused to have his Occupational Safety and Health Administration promulgate a workplace safety standard for nurses and other essential workers, and has irresponsibly pushed for businesses and schools to reopen prematurely.
All of this has led to the United States suffering the worst impacts of the pandemic of any country on earth with no end in sight. By contrast, Joe Biden has a comprehensive plan to combat the pandemic and to prepare for future pandemics.
This response includes committing to fully invoke the Defense Production Act to mass produce lifesaving PPE for nurses and other essential workers, something Trump could have done in January. He has also endorsed our union’s call for an emergency Occupational Safety and Health Administration standard to protect workers’ safety during pandemics, and he will ensure that public health decisions are made by public health professionals and not politicians or business executives looking to profit from the crisis.
As nurses, we stand behind the candidate committed to immediately restoring the White House National Security Council Directorate for Global Health Security and Biodefense, which was established by the Obama-Biden Administration and eliminated by the Trump Administration in 2018. Biden, not Trump, is the one who is ready to start up multi-hundred-bed temporary hospitals in any city on short notice by deploying existing Federal Medical Stations in the strategic national stockpile and preemptively defining potential locations for their use as needed.
Biden is committed to ensuring every person who needs a COVID-19 test can get one and that testing for those who need it is free. And he will pursue decisive economic measures to help hard-hit workers, families, and small businesses and to stabilize the American economy.
COVID-19 is also an issue of racial justice, given that Black and Brown patients experience an outsized impact by the disease. Studies have shown that Black and Latinx patients are three to four times as likely to die of COVID-19 as their white counterparts. A recent study also showed that our Black and Brown COVID-19 patients are dying younger than white patients.
And to underscore how critical this election is, consider that death is not the only horrific outcome of COVID-19. In America, nearly 4 million people have been infected. Studies are increasingly showing that “recovery” can mean living with lifelong serious conditions, including permanent heart and lung damage.
Uncertainty about the future after testing positive for COVID-19 can be crippling. Just ask emergency department registered nurse Bexabelle Osmond Apolinario, who also works at Kaiser Fresno where Sandra Oldfield died. Despite her colleague’s death months ago highlighting the need for PPE, Apolinario, 40, didn’t get the protections she needed. She contracted COVID-19 in late June while working in a unit she calls the “front lines of the front lines.”
As cases surge in Fresno (and across the country), she and her colleagues only get simple surgical masks unless a patient is suspected of COVID-19, but the hospital doesn’t always know patients are positive when they enter the facility through her department. And nurses in her facility have had to reuse PPE throughout the course of COVID-19, putting both nurses and patients at risk. There is currently a cluster of six Kaiser Fresno emergency department nurses, including Bexi, who have tested positive, and 24 Kaiser Fresno nurses have tested positive over the course of the pandemic.
“I think about my baby growing up not to know me,” said Apolinario, who immediately quarantined away from her family when she felt sick, but ended up passing COVID-19 to her 7-month-old daughter, 15-year-old autistic son, 22-year-old daughter, and 40-year-old husband anyway, given that the virus can be contagious before symptoms even appear. Apolinario said thinking about how a nurse already died in her facility, emphasizes that “it could be any of us, and it’s devastating.”
Weeks into her illness, Apolinario has now joined a support group for COVID-19 survivors, where people post about their 99th day of bruising and ongoing damage to their organs. She herself has COVID-19 pneumonia, can’t walk to the bathroom without getting winded, and has been trying to care for her seriously ill family while also seriously ill herself. And still, the richest country in the world hasn’t bothered to produce enough PPE so that nurses can have N95 respirators or better in all the situations when they need them — and so hospitals don’t get away with locking them up and rationing them.
“Are they just going to replace me when I die?” Apolinario wonders. “Will I just be another number?”
No nurse should have to ask herself this question. No health care or other frontline worker should feel as if their life and the lives of their patients and family are being sacrificed by our own government. We need a president who invests in public health, who follows science, and who will step up to actually lead in this pandemic.
National Nurses United backs Biden and urges people to vote as if their lives depend on it in November. Because they do.