The US experiences record-high coronavirus cases after ignoring the warnings of public health experts and medical professionals. We speak with National Nurses United President Zenei Cortez.
This is a rush transcript and may contain errors. It will be updated.
Jaisal Noor: Welcome to The Real News. I’m Jaisal Noor. State leaders are imposing new restrictions and delaying reopenings this week as coronavirus cases in several US states continue to surge. Public health experts and healthcare workers are demanding states close again until COVID-19 protections, testing, and tracking measures are put in place. Texas announced on Friday it’s closing bars after the state experienced record hospitalizations after reopening early. In California, Governor Gavin Newsom said the number of hospitalizations increased by nearly a third after easing restrictions, overwhelming many emergency rooms across the state. Nevada will require everyone to wear a mask in public after the state hit record high in new cases earlier in the week after reopening. Meanwhile, Florida saw its highest one-day total of new cases this week.
Well, our next guest has been warning for months that states lacked the required PPE, testing, and other safety measures to open safely.
Zenei Cortez is president of National Nurses United and a registered nurse at Kaiser Permanente in South San Francisco, California. She has been a nurse for more than 40 years. Thank you so much for joining us.
Zenei Cortez: Well, thank you for having me.
Jaisal Noor: So in your 40 years of being a nurse, could you have ever experienced or imagined being in a situation like this where not only were we unprepared and not only did we not heed the calls of healthcare workers and public health professionals and experts, but we’re reopening too early against the advice that many people have given forth?
Zenei Cortez: Yes, it’s really unprecedented. In my 40 years of nursing experience, having gone through a lot of cases like HIV AIDS in the early ’80s, SARS, H1N1, I have not seen anything of this magnitude. And since the beginning of the pandemic, we have been sounding the alarm that we are not prepared to tackle this big issue ahead of us, which is the COVID-19 coronavirus in that we have been asking for optimum PPE at the very beginning. And we have asked the CDC, the Centers for Disease Control. We’ve asked OSHA, Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and even calling on the World Health Organization to put on strict guidance as to how we can stop the spread and also the transmission of the disease. But unfortunately, it has always fallen on deaf ears.
And so it’s really frustrating that we have come to this point where the administration and our government officials and healthcare officials who are supposed to be watching for the health and welfare of the public are not really doing their jobs. It was too early to open in April. We said that. And then furthermore, they opened up more in different states, in different stages last month. And now we are faced with the surge of new cases, and we’re still not ready. We’re not prepared.
Jaisal Noor: And talk about what the situation is in California. Early on, California was praised for its response to the coronavirus crisis. What is the situation right now?
Zenei Cortez: Well, right now, we’re being told by our employers that there’s very limited supply of PPE. And in fact, last week, one of our employers told us that as of last week, we only have PPE that would last us 100 days. And that’s very scary on the part of the nurses and of course of the other frontline healthcare workers because when you come to the hundredth day, what are we going to do? And that puts a lot of burden and a lot of risks on us because, as nurses, we need to take care of the public. We need to take care of our patients, and we cannot abandon them.
And so now we are asking the governor, our local officials, our state officials, and even President Trump to activate the Defense Production Act so that he can require massive production of PPE so we will be able to face and take care and handle the surge that’s happening because of the opening. And here in California, the cases have been tremendously high, so that now our emergency rooms and our ICUs are overwhelmed once again.
Jaisal Noor: So talk about what your response is to President Trump. Not only has he resisted calls to use the Defense Production Act to mobilize industry to produce PPE, but he’s also sort of made fun of people for wearing masks. He’s held these rallies where there hasn’t been a requirement to wear a mask and sort of stigmatized and normalized this behavior even in confined indoor spaces. And do you think that’s had an impact on the public? Because for a while, it seems like the recovery was going well, and people let their guards down.
Zenei Cortez: Yes, that’s really true. We were doing a fine job of flattening the curve, but then when you have a president who is continuously putting everybody in harm’s way by saying, “The virus is gone. Let’s go back to normal” … And that’s when, as you said, people let their guards down, which is not the case because the virus is still here. And it doesn’t discriminate as to who it will affect. People thought that only older people would be affected, but no, it’s all ages, all races. It doesn’t matter whether your ethnicity is Brown, Black. It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter what skin color you are or even your economic status in life. It doesn’t matter.
But the unfortunate thing is that we have a president who is very, very irresponsible in trying in protecting us. He’s not even trying, because trying is … I would give him a good grade on that, but he isn’t even trying. He’s telling people that, “Go back to normal. Everything will be fine.” And I think that’s when we see people going to the beaches, having parties, young kids getting together, no masks, no protection, no social distancing. And that’s really irresponsible on his part. And I think that he should be called out for it. And we have done so, but again, unfortunately, he’s not responding. Or he’s just ignoring the calls of people who are basing what they see and their decisions on science and not on the stock market.
Jaisal Noor: And finally, there’s been a dramatic spread of conspiracy theories around the need for the use of masks and the coronavirus.
There was a viral clip from Palm Beach County, a hearing that they held this week, where a lot of residents spoke out, being skeptical of the need for masks and the need for social distancing.
Speaker 3: What happened to Bill Gates? Why is he not in jail?
Speaker 4: [crosstalk 00:08:47].
Speaker 3: The deep state is going down, and if any of you are in the deep state, you’re going down with it.
Jaisal Noor: … saying it’s their right as Americans to not do this. And we’ve seen this around the country, even as cases spike. So what would you say as a nurse, as a healthcare worker on the front lines to people that don’t believe that the need for this?
Zenei Cortez: Well, yeah, I think I saw the same clip, and it really gave me a migraine because these people are so uninformed of what the virus can do and how it could spread. They need to see what’s going on in the hospitals. They need to see how, let’s say, an 18-year-old kid had been infected by the virus and clinging life with all different tubes connected to the body and being on the ventilator, laying on the stomach. They need to see those graphic images so that it would resonate to them. And unfortunately, they need a lot of education, and they need a lot of information. And that’s what’s missing.
And then once again, if you have elected officials that dismisses the fact that the coronavirus is gone, I think that’s really, I would say, even criminal for those leaders to be still in office when their job is to protect their constituents. And I’m really baffled that these people are not realistic. I think they’re refusing to see what’s happening around them, and they’re refusing to admit that masking is one of the steps that needs to be taken in order for the transmission and the disease and the spread to stop. And I think they really need to be told, and they need to have the education. That’s all I can say.
Jaisal Noor: Well, I want to thank you so much for joining us. And it’s worth mentioning that an estimated 600 healthcare workers have died due to COVID already across the country. So you’re coming from a place from the front lines and really appreciate all the work. And we hope that the public and elected officials take these calls seriously. Thank you so much for joining us.
Zenei Cortez: Well, thank you for having me, and thank you for continuing to shed the light on this problem.
Jaisal Noor: And thank you for joining us at The Real News Network.
General Assignment Reporter
Jaisal is a host, producer, and reporter for TRNN. With his expertise in education policy and systemic inequity, he focuses on Baltimore, Maryland. He mainly grew up in the Baltimore area and studied modern history at the University of Maryland, College Park. Before joining TRNN, he contributed print, radio, and TV reports to Free Speech Radio News, Democracy Now! and The Indypendent.
Jaisal's mother has taught in the Baltimore City Public School system for the past 25 years.