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Nurses Struggle For COVID-19 Protection, Survey Shows


A new survey asked nurses if they have enough protective equipment to keep them safe while they're treating COVID-19 patients. More than 80% of nurses said they do not. NPR got the results of that survey which was conducted by the Service Employees International Union. Reporter Will Stone has been interviewing nurses since the first U.S. case was discovered, and he's on the line now from Seattle. Good morning, Will.

WILL STONE, BYLINE: Good morning.

KING: Tell me about this survey.

STONE: It's a snapshot of how nurses are feeling. The SEIU surveyed more than 1,000 nurses who are members of the union. These nurses are on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic, working in intensive care units and ERs. The big takeaway is that most don't feel safe. More than 80% said they still don't have enough protective equipment like masks and gowns. And we know a lot of Americans have had trouble being tested, but these are health care workers. And 85% of the nurses said they can't get tested quickly if they believe they've been exposed. The vast majority say their hospitals don't have enough staff for a surge of patients.

KING: Interesting that we're getting these numbers now at a time when some U.S. states are considering reopening. I mean, I guess a question worth asking is, is the fear justified? Are nurses getting sick?

STONE: We know from a CDC report that at least 9,000 health care workers have gotten infected with the coronavirus, yes, and 27 have died from this disease. And that's probably a big undercount.

KING: Oh, wow. The union that released this survey, SEIU, they represent 80,000 nurses in the U.S. - a significant number. Is there any kind of effort underway to address the issues that have been raised here?

STONE: Well, I talked to the president of SEIU about the implications - about how states like Georgia are moving toward relaxing stay-at-home guidance so that some people can go back to work. The president is Mary Kay Henry, and she says figuring out if we have enough supplies to protect health care workers has to be part of the planning.

MARY KAY HENRY: We need to lift the restrictions when it's safe, but we're still in a crisis. I've heard from health care employers - we are going to crush registered nurses and health care workers if we return to work too soon and the pandemic crests again.

STONE: And she says it's the federal government that's responsible, ultimately, for making sure that hospitals are well stocked with masks and tests, not just for nurses but for all kinds of essential workers. She wants the Trump administration to take the lead, require more production of masks, of tests. And everyone needs those tests; it's the key to containing the spread of the virus.

KING: You're based in Seattle, and I know that you've been talking to nurses for weeks now. Does what they've been telling you match up with what was found in this survey?

STONE: Yes. Many of them are scared. They're worn down, like Maria Gray (ph). She's a nurse in Missouri. She told me that she lost her job at the hospital after demanding a better mask. I actually spoke to her as she was driving to a vigil for a nurse she worked with who died after treating a coronavirus patient.

MARIA GRAY: As a nurse, you give so much to serve others. You care so much about others. And you should be protected to do your job, you know? So it really hurts. It just really - it really hurts.

STONE: And I hear that from a lot of people I speak to. There's been a lot of public support - people donating masks and cheering health care workers. But a lot of nurses are still feeling abandoned by their managers, by the government. And they're worried things might still get worse.

KING: Reporter Will Stone.

Will, thanks so much for your time.

STONE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Will Stone
[Copyright 2024 NPR]