Press Release

National Nurses United condemns congressional inaction on protecting nurses, other health care workers from COVID-19

Nurses protest lack of protection

Congressional Stimulus bill fails to protect frontline workers from COVID-19 exposure, say nurses

National Nurses United (NNU), the largest union of registered nurses in the United States, today condemned the United States Senate for failing to mandate protections for health care workers in the COVID-19 stimulus package that passed the Senate on Wednesday night. The Senate passed the inadequate bill at the end of the deadliest day of the COVID-19 outbreak in the U.S., with more than 200 new deaths on Wednesday alone.

“Nurses across the country are risking their lives on the frontlines of this public health crisis because they don’t have the protections they need. Senators from every state have heard from their local nurses about the dire circumstances they are facing, and yet these senators failed to protect the workers who are the foundation of this country’s COVID-19 response,” said Bonnie Castillo, RN, executive director of National Nurses United.

The vote comes just days after the first reports of health care workers dying from exposure to COVID-19.

“Without proper action from Congress and the Trump administration, it is certain that nurses and health care workers will continue to be exposed to the virus causing COVID-19. When that happens, they will need to be quarantined, or they will be putting their patients, families and communities at further risk of infection,” Castillo continued.  “When nurses get sidelined in quarantine or die because they are not protected, who will care for this country’s patients?”

Nurses across the country have protested guidance by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention which has encouraged use of surgical masks and even scarves and bandannas for frontline health care workers caring for covid-19 patients. Nurses emphasize that these coverings do not properly protect health care workers from contracting a virus which some studies are showing might be airborne.

Nurses and other health care workers need respirators (at minimum N95 respirators), gloves, gowns, and other personal protective equipment (PPE) in order to prevent exposure when they are caring for suspected and confirmed COVID-19 patients, nurses say. NNU nurses have reported that some hospital managers are locking up PPE and refusing to let nurses use them when needed. Others are threatening nurses with disciplinary action when they bring their own N95s or other masks to work in the hospital. Across the country, nurses are being told to reuse their respirators, masks, gloves, and gowns, which puts them and their patients at risk of exposure.

NNU advocated for Congress to mandate that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration promulgate an emergency temporary standard to protect health care and other frontline workers from COVID-19 exposure. The provision was originally in the Families First Act proposed by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, but was taken out of that bill because the hospital industry opposed it. It was once again proposed in the House stimulus bill on Monday evening, but Senate republicans refused to include it in the Senate package.

NNU also called on Congress to mandate that at least $10 billion of the $100 billion being provided to hospitals in the new bill be used exclusively for the purchasing of respirators and other essential personal protective equipment. The Senate bill did not include such a provision.

“Registered nurses risk their lives to care for their patients. It is shameful that Congress refuses to protect the workers on the front lines of this pandemic,” said Castillo.  “We will continue to raise our voices in protest until our elected officials and our hospital employers take this dire threat to our health and safety seriously.”