A group of registered nurses gathered outside the White House on Tuesday in honor of nurses who have died of COVID-19 and to demand mass production of personal protective equipment.
National Nurses United, the largest union of registered nurses in the country, organized 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, the union said in a statement.
About a dozen nurses donned face masks or bandanas and stood about six feet away from each other during the demonstration.
In a powerful statement, the names of U.S. nurses who were known to have died of COVID-19 were read aloud during the protest. Forty-six names were read, including two with a "name withheld" designation.
“Nurses protested today because we need to stop the spread of the virus and to do that, nurses and other health care workers need the optimal personal protective equipment to do their jobs safely,” Deborah Burger, RN, co-president of National Nurses United, said in a statement to USA TODAY.
“We need Congress and the White House to act now and mandate that the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration issue an emergency temporary standard to protect health care workers and other frontline workers from COVID-19 exposure. It is inexcusable that Congress is debating a new COVID-19 interim package without including a mandatory OSHA standard for health care workers in the bill.”
Members of NNU demand President Donald Trump use the Defense Production Act to order the mass production of protective equipment, including N95 respirators, face shields, gowns, gloves and shoe coverings, as well as ventilators and test kits.
This was just the latest case of nurses or health care workers across the country demonstrating either in protest or in counterprotest.
After Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf extended the state’s stay-at-home order until May 8, a wave of about 2,000 people congregated outside the state’s Capitol in Harrisburg to rally against the restrictions.
A group of nurses showed up to counterprotest in Pennsylvania, standing about a block away from the main demonstration, holding signs asking those who opposed the stay-at-home mandate to return to their homes, according to CNN.
"We don't think we have enough equipment in all the hospitals in PA to take care of all the patients that are going to be coming in based on us getting a surge," Katrina Rectenwald, a nurse who was among the counterprotesters, told CNN affiliate WHTM.
Sunday in Denver, a group of counterprotesters dressed in scrubs and wearing face masks stood in the middle of the street to block motorists who flocked to the state Capitol to rally against the state’s stay-at-home restrictions.
A series of photographs from photojournalist Alyson McClaran went viral, showing the counterprotesters dressed in teal scrubs with their arms crossed, standing in front of cars – often with passengers shouting at them through lowered windows.
According to a Monday press release, the New York State Nurses Association filed three lawsuits against the New York State Department of Health and two hospitals, Montefiore Medical Center and Westchester Medical Center, for failing to protect the health and safety of nurses treating COVID-19 patients.
“More than seven in 10 of our nurses are reporting exposure to COVID-19 and most are still untested,” NYSNA Executive Director Pat Kane said in the release. “We cannot allow these dangerous practices to continue.”
More than 9,000 health care personnel have been infected with the illness and at least 27 have died, a report released last week by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said. However, the agency conceded the report's findings underestimate the number of cases among health care workers because of uneven reporting across the country.
The U.S. is now approaching 800,000 confirmed coronavirus cases and a death toll of more than 42,000 as of Tuesday afternoon, according to the Johns Hopkins University data dashboard.
Contributing: John Bacon, USA TODAY. Follow Adrianna Rodriguez on Twitter: @AdriannaUSAT @LorenzoGReyes