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'A Patriotic and Moral Requirement': Healthcare Workers, on Frontlines of Coronavirus Pandemic, Demand Protective Equipment

Nurses and doctors are being "sent to battle with no armor," said National Nurses United. 

An intensive care nurse treats a patient at an intensive care unit at the Klinikum Bad Hersfeld hospital on March 20, 2020 in Bad Hersfeld, Germany.

An intensive care nurse treats a patient at an intensive care unit at the Klinikum Bad Hersfeld hospital on March 20, 2020 in Bad Hersfeld, Germany. (Photo: Thomas Lohnes/Getty Images)

Healthcare workers are demanding that Congress make protecting those on the frontlines of the coronavirus crisis a priority as masks and other protective gear are beginning to run short—well before the outbreak is expected to peak in the U.S. and overwhelm hospitals.

"Protecting all workers is the patriotic and moral requirement of this moment," Service Employees International Union (SEIU) international president Mary Kay Henry said in a letter Monday. 

The letter, to Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar, demands testing, treatment, and personal protective equipment (PPE) be provided to American healthcare workers as they struggle to handle the coronavirus, or COVID-19, pandemic. The union is asking that the federal government release stockpiles of masks in the Strategic National Stockpile, use the Defense Production Act (DPA) to produce needed equipment for healthcare workers and hospitals, and provide childcare and other services for the frontline workers. 

The coronavirus outbreak has largely paralyzed the planet with lockdown orders across the globe in an attempt to slow the spread of the disease. Due to the infectious nature of the coronavirus and the need for hospitalization for around 20% of those who contract it, healthcare workers in the U.S. are increasingly concerned over the capacity of the nation's health system.

In an email to supporters Tuesday entitled "Sent to battle with no armor," the union National Nurses United (NNU) sounded a similar alarm over the lack of PPE and other protections for workers.

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"At a moment when we are asking nurses and other healthcare workers to step up and protect people, we must be able to protect them in return and give them the equipment they need to combat COVID-19 safely," the email said.

On Monday, NNU executive director Bonnie Castillo said in a statement on a petiton drive to force Congress to protect healthcare workers that the need to ensure the frontline staff remain safe and healthy is not only needed for the health of those on the ground working to fight the pandemic but also for the good of society as a whole. 

"When nurses and doctors get sick from this virus who is going to be left to take care of the public?" said Castillo. "If they don't want the entire healthcare system to collapse, Congress must act immediately to protect the frontline healthcare providers."

SEIU healthcare workers sounded off in a statement on the lack of safety measures and PPE and what the situation means in real terms on the ground.

"Imagine coming home from a really long day at your job and being afraid to kiss and hug the people you love," said Gabriel Montoya, a Downey, California emergency medical technician. "That's the reality my co-workers and I are dealing with right now. Without the proper PPE, we don't feel safe."

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