National Nurses United registered nurse members report ongoing denials of access to Covid-19 testing
Stress fundamental importance of testing to containing virus
Nine months into Covid-19, and with the winter flu season just around the corner, registered nurse members of National Nurses United (NNU), the country’s largest professional association and union of RNs, report that they are routinely denied access by employers to Covid-19 testing -- even after confirmed exposures to Covid-positive patients and after they themselves have tested positive, but want assurances that they are no longer infectious and can return to work.
The U.S. Centers for Disease and Infection Control (CDC) has allowed hospital employers to refuse testing to nurses and other health care workers through severe weakening of its guidance, shifting away from a testing model to one that relies heavily on whether or not workers show symptoms. In addition, the Trump administration has downplayed the need for testing. Given the documented, extremely high percentage of asymptomatic Covid-19 infection rates, nurses believe lack of reliable, widespread, readily available, and free Covid-19 testing for health care and other essential workers, and patients, is a deadly mistake.
Nurses point out that athletes -- such as professional and college basketball, football, baseball players -- are routinely tested, sometimes daily, but health care workers who save lives cannot find out easily if they have Covid. The most recent NNU survey of RNs found that fewer than one quarter of respondents had been tested for Covid-19.
“The fact that players in the NBA or NFL are constantly tested, and nurses and other health care workers are constantly denied tests, sadly highlights our country’s priorities,” said Diane McClure, a post-anesthesia care RN and a board member of the California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee, an NNU affiliate. “We value our sports entertainment, but not preventing human suffering and death among essential workers like me.”
McClure said she knows countless, first-hand stories of nurses who have been exposed to Covid-19 at work, but been denied testing. At her hospital, Kaiser Permanente South Sacramento Medical Center, McClure said management very narrowly defines what counts as “exposure” and refuses to test nurses unless all the criteria are met. Even nurses who do meet the threshold for exposure but aren’t showing symptoms are constantly discouraged from testing. “They’re always saying, ‘No, you don’t need to be tested,’ or ‘You should be fine,’” said McClure. “Well, that’s not true. You could be asymptomatic and be transmitting the virus. You would think Kaiser would want to know whether their staff have Covid-19 or not, right? But no. It’s beyond ridiculous.” Some nurses have paid for private testing or resorted to county testing or outside programs to find out if they have Covid-19 after they were denied by their employers.
Besides health care and essential workers’ challenges in getting Covid-19 testing, nurses say they are extremely concerned that not all patients are presumed to potentially have Covid-19 unless definitely ruled out either way through testing. Marissa Lee, a labor and delivery RN in Florida and an NNU vice president, said that management justified pregnant women not being tested for Covid at her facility because “pregnant women were immune” to the virus. “Well, they had to walk that back real quick as soon as we learned about our first confirmed pregnant patient,” said Lee.
To learn more about NNU’s positions on and demands about Covid-19 diagnostic testing, please visit this page.