Frontline medical professionals across the country warn of the potentially deadly consequences of a lack of personal protective equipment.


Story Transcript

This is a rush transcript and may contain errors. It will be updated.
Jaisal Noor: Welcome to the Real News, I’m Jasial Noor. Nurses around the world, including in the United States, are protesting the dire shortage of personal protective equipment like N95 masks, gloves, medical gowns and more in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic. New York, the current epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic, says they could run out of supplies in just days, risking further escalating the crisis. Nurses protesting outside of the Montefiore Medical Center on April 2nd, said they feared for their lives. Speaker 2: People are very frightened for their lives. They are afraid they’re going to poison their families. But the most important thing is that this is a pandemic and we know we have a responsibility, a moral and ethical and a clinical responsibility to save lives. And if we get sick, we can’t do it. If we don’t have the staff, we need so much more nurses and we can’t get them because they’re afraid to come. We know that if we make them safe, they’ll come and we’ll have the help that we need. How do I choose among the four whose life I’m going to save? It’s an impossible situation and it’s causing people so much emotional and physical trauma. Jaisal Noor: Nurses with National Nurses United, the largest nurses union in the country, took part in actions at 15 hospitals on April 2nd and 3rd to demand their employers provide adequate personal protective gear. Medical professionals have been warning of this impending crisis for weeks and demanded Trump force industry to produce the needed equipment through the defense production act. And it appears he will finally act, but has this come too late? Now joining us to discuss this, just before she joins a protest is Maria Louviaux, a registered nurse, a member of the California Nurses Association and an National Nurses United nurse representative at the university of California Irvine. Thanks so much for joining us. Maria Louviaux: Yes, thank you Jaisal, we appreciate your time. Jasial Noor: So we know that you are about to go and take part in action outside of your hospital. Talk about the conditions there and what your demands are right now. Maria Louviaux: Sure. Currently, the conditions at our hospital is nurses, all the front liners are facing situation where we are not allowed to wear our N95 respirators. Respirators are actually under lock and key. In some cases, security needs to be called up to release the PPEs, our personal protective equipment. In other cases, a respirator needs to be signed out. But we do not have easy access to N95 respirators, nor do we have easy access as well to get surgical mass. We’re not allowed to wear masks any kind unless certain criteria are met throughout the hospital. So our action today is to bring awareness to our need for protection. Because if nurses are not protected, our patients aren’t protected, the community is not protected. So it affects everyone. We’re really here to fight for the safety of everyone. Jaisal Noor: And so this N95 mask, I know it’s been the subject of a lot of discussion, but explain exactly why these are so important because we know they are in short supply. But just start off by talking about why they’re so critical in fighting COVID-19. Maria Louviaux: The importance of the N95 respirator is because it provides a higher protection for the healthcare providers. We are looking at a current situation where truly the CDC doesn’t really have the answers to COVID-19. The new studies are still being being conducted on the transmission of the virus, really what the virus does, whether it lingers on surfaces, whether it stays in the air. So we’re calling for the maximum protection because, especially during this time, we feel that in an emergency condition like this during a pandemic that it’s time to be proactive, not reactive. And it just seems that in our hospital as well as throughout the UC and actually throughout all the hospitals in the nation, hospitals are, including ours, just more reactive with their policies. And being reactive really is not protecting nurses, not protecting patients, not protecting the community at all. Jasial Noor: And what exactly has been the response been from the hospital? I’ve talked to some doctors and some other medical professionals at UC and in their region and from my understanding, they’re sending out new directives constantly. So there’s a maybe a lack of communication but also constantly changing information which adds to the confusion. Can you comment on that? Maria Louviaux: Certainly. That is part of the problem is the policies that are in place do seem to change with a certain amount of frequency. They also seem to conflict and contradict themselves. But these policies that we’re focusing on are primarily the policies for our PPEs, our personal protective equipment, in particular the N95 respirators and also what are called the powered air purifying respirators, short name is PAPRs. So we are really calling for the supplies to be available to us. What’s happening at this particular time is once a nurse is finally issued an N95 respirator, that N95 respirator needs to be used continuously and as we go from patients to patient. We need to use it until that respirators compromised, either soiled, wet, loss of integrity, but it needs to be reused frequently. And that is really outside of the regulations that the FDA approved it for as well. Jaisal Noor: And so what’s your message to Donald Trump? Because we know that he has the power, he’s had the power since the beginning of this crisis moths ago to increase production of these respirators. We know that it was just revealed that the United States has been shipping these respirators across the world even after this crisis exploded. We know that Trump finally said he’s taking action on Thursday, and he previously resisted saying, “We’re not like Venezuela.” But in fact, Trump had been using this defense production act when it suited him to build things like the wall with Mexico. He had used the same act, but he resisted to produce the N95 masks. So what is your message to Trump and are you afraid this might be too late? Maria Louviaux: The nurses are CNA, which is the California State Affiliate of National Nurses United. The nurses are National Nurses United and as Nurses of National Nurses United, we are calling for Trump to invoke full authority under the DPA, under the Defense Production Act. Not just the select few companies that can manufacture the PPEs and the ventilators, but for the full spectrum of companies to be called on to produce these PPEs that are being reported as you know, as small in stockpile. This is what the reasoning is in all the hospitals, “Oh we don’t have enough, we don’t have enough. So therefore, you cannot have a mask.” We’re calling for him to invoke the [inaudible 00:08:07] under the Defense Production Act. We are also recognizing that as nurse of CNA, we cannot do this alone. We cannot do it on our own. We need to have the full support of the communities throughout the nation to call upon Trump as well. We’re directing people did go to protectnurses.org to sign the petition. Because strength is in numbers and, really, we’re all in this together. We’re going to get through COVID-19 together. And the only way to make something happen is to just all pull together. Because we are not doing this just to protect ourselves, we’re doing this to protect our patients, protect communities. Jaisal Noor: All right, well thank you so for joining us. We know that this is all been a tremendous strain on this entire nation, but especially the healthcare workers like yourselves who are making enormous sacrifices. Thank you for your service. Maria Louviaux,: Thank y’all. Thank you for your time. We appreciate you helping us to get the word out.

Jaisal Noor

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 NewsDemocracy Now! and The Indypendent.

Jaisal's mother has taught in the Baltimore City Public School system for the past 25 years.