Registered nurses applaud a speaker during a National Nurses United rally at Alta Bates Summit Medical Center Calif., on Wednesday, March 11, 2020. Registered nurses are outraged to learn that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Tuesday further weakened its guidance on measures to contain COVID-19. Jane Tyska/Digital First Media/East Bay Times via Getty Images

Nurses staged protests at hospitals across California on March 24 demanding personal protective equipment (PPE) necessary to keep them safe from contracting and spreading COVID-19. They chanted “What do we want? PPE! When do we want it? Now!” outside of the Kaiser Permanente Oakland Medical Center, ABC7 News reported.

“We have not been getting the proper equipment and proper training in order to safely take care of our patients,” registered nurse Diane McClure told Fox40 in Sacramento outside of South Sacramento Medical Center. “We’re very afraid that the disease is going to spread even more because this is not happening.”

Amid the growing pandemic, medical professionals across the country are experiencing a severe shortage of N95 respirators, isolation gowns, isolation masks, surgical masks, and eye protection, on top of the insufficient supply of tests for the novel coronavirus. Several medical workers spoke to The Real News on the condition of anonymity to offer their insight into the growing crisis.

“We are running out of protective equipment. You want us to take care of all of these people, but if we get sick, how are we going to do that?” warned a Baltimore nurse at an outpatient center that serves around 200 patients with compromised immune systems each day. “If I get sick and I spread it to [my patients], they’re all gonna die.”

An ER doctor at a large community hospital on the East Coast said, “We’re 100% not testing everybody that we would like to and 100% like not catching even the majority of milder infections.”

A physician at a hospital that serves at-risk patients said, “I think the most important thing is making sure that we have enough personal protective equipment kind of going forward, because that’s the only thing that you can do to protect yourself, so that you don’t get people sick.”

A growing number of medical professional associations are urging the Trump administration to use the Defense Production Act (DPA) to direct private industry to produce PPE. President Donald Trump invoked the act on March 18, but did not himself direct any industry to produce PPE.

“As COVID-19 continues to spread throughout the country, these supplies are urgently needed to care for our patients and communities,” the heads of the American Hospital Association (AHA), American Medical Association (AMA) and American Nurses Association (ANA) wrote in a March 21 letter to the president.

On March 22, President Donald Trump rejected calls to implement the DPA despite previously saying it would be used to kickstart production of PPE. “We’re a country not based on nationalizing our business,” Trump said.

FEMA made the first use of the act a week later to obtain testing kits and masks.

The DPA does not nationalize businesses. Rather, it directs industry to produce equipment required for national security. Local groups have begun producing PPE, and over the last week, the federal government has announced the release of one million N95 masks from reserves.

“Even with an infusion of supplies from the strategic stockpile and other federal resources, there will not be enough medical supplies, including ventilators, to respond to the projected COVID-19 outbreak,“ the joint letter reads.

National Nurses United, the country’s largest nurses union, said 250,000 people signed their online petition urging Congress to take immediate action to ensure healthcare workers are provided with necessary PPE.

“It is outrageous for the CDC to tell hospitals that nurses and other health care workers don’t need the maximum protective gear to prevent them from getting sick during this pandemic,” said Bonnie Castillo, RN, executive director of National Nurses United. “This is why it is imperative for Congress to act immediately to include HR 6139—without any weakening amendments—in the third COVID-19 stimulus.” HR 6139 was introduced by Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA) and Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL). The bill would mandate health workers immediately receive necessary protective gear.

Over 32,000 people signed a similar online petition from the American College of Emergency Physicians, which states, “We are receiving reports of workarounds that many of our physicians have had to resort to, such as spraying their masks with bleach at the end of each day and hanging them up at home to dry. While taken out of necessity, such workarounds compromise the protection that PPE is designed to provide.”

The shortage of equipment is due to rampant hoarding of medical supplies, which authorities are cracking down on, and a decrease in imports from China, according to the Associated Press.

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Jaisal is currently the Democracy Initiative Manager at the Solutions Journalism Network and is a former TRNN host, producer, and reporter. 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. Follow him on Twitter @jaisalnoor.