California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee/National Nurses United statement on reopening the country
The California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee/National Nurses United (CNA/NNOC/NNU), the largest union of registered nurses in the United States, strongly cautions that calls to “reopen the country” are premature when the threat of the virus causing COVID-19 is not yet behind us. To effectively respond to this pandemic before loosening social distancing measures, nurses call on the government and employers to meet the following criteria:
Basing health care capacity and preparedness on need, not profit. Before reopening the country, nurses and other health care workers must have the optimal personal protective equipment (PPE) they need, including powered air-purifying respirators, coveralls that incorporate head coverings and shoe coverings, and gloves. Otherwise, hospitals will continue to be places that spread infection, and nurses and health care workers will continue to get sick and sidelined, die, and be unable to care for the next wave of patients.
It is clear to nurses that the industry thinks they have produced an acceptable solution to the PPE shortage by implementing widespread use of various N95 decontamination systems. This is unacceptable and unsafe. Before reopening the country, President Trump must activate the Defense Production Act to order the mass production of PPE.
Health care capacity must also be expanded, and people must be able to get treatment they need if they contract COVID-19— at no cost. Any vaccine developed with U.S. taxpayer dollars must also be provided to the public in America for free when needed.
CDC, WHO, OSHA guidelines and standards must be strengthened. The risk for airborne transmission of the virus is now documented, and before reopening the country, nurses demand that the Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization recognize this and strengthen their guidelines accordingly. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) must also pass an emergency temporary standard to mandate that healthcare employers provide protections needed for COVID-19.
Public health infrastructure must be strengthened to include sufficient staffing, supplies, and space for robust surveillance, testing, case isolation, and contact tracing to ensure that the virus is effectively contained.
While considering “reopening the country,” nurses also emphasize that this pandemic has exposed underlying problems in our society and illuminated the damage done by neoliberal economic policies that are beneficial to a limited few and a profit-driven health care system.
Ensuring basic human needs are met. People in America must have enhanced unemployment benefits and paid sick time and family leave; food security; housing; healthcare; and other social supports for people who are unemployed or unable to work due to illness or quarantine and isolation measures
As caregivers, nurses emphasize that we cannot return to the damaging way things were. This time is instead an opportunity to reimagine how we can organize our society in ways that are beneficial to everyone, as opposed to a handful of billionaires. It’s a time to focus on building an economy that’s not based on consumption of things, but rather on care for people.
CNA/NNOC is an affiliate of National Nurses United, the largest and fastest growing union of registered nurses in the United States with more than 150,000 members nationwide. NNU plays a leadership role in safeguarding the health and safety of RNs and their patients and has won landmark legislation in the areas of staffing, safe patient handling, infectious disease and workplace violence prevention.