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Nurses hold White House protest over need for protective equipment in coronavirus fight

“We’re here because our colleagues are dying,” said Erica Jones, a nurse at Washington Hospital Center in Washington, D.C.
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WASHINGTON — Their numbers were small, but their message was powerful.

Nearly two dozen nurses from National Nurses United stood in protest outside the White House Tuesday, demanding more Personal Protective Equipment and a codification of protective standards as healthcare workers across the country find themselves underprepared on the frontlines of the coronavirus crisis.

“We’re here because our colleagues are dying,” Erica Jones, a nurse at Washington Hospital Center in D.C., told NBC News. Jones stood silently Tuesday as the names of 50 nurses who died from COVID-19 were read aloud in the shadow of the White House.

Image: National Nurses United protest PPE White House
Nurses from National Nurses United protest in front of the White House on Tuesday. The group sought to bring attention to health care workers across the country who have contracted COVID-19 due to a lack of personal protective equipment.Patrick Semansky / AP

“I think that right now, people think of us as heroes. But we're feeling like martyrs, we're feeling like we're being left on the battlefield with nothing,” she said. “And I think that we should be paying more attention to what nurses and doctors and other health care workers are going through right now.”

They're calling on President Donald Trump to utilize the Defense Production Act to ensure healthcare workers have necessary supplies, including critical N95 masks and respirators, face shields and gloves. “We need these things to do our jobs,” Jones said. The NNU is also pushing for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to establish standards for health care workers during outbreaks of infectious disease.

“Right now what’s happening, in hospitals across this country, nurses are being told to reuse their N95 masks, not only their whole shift but for days or weeks on end. That is not safe,” Amirah Sequeira of National Nurses United said. “That is not protecting them, and it is not protecting their patients. We need an OSHA standards to tell hospitals that the reuse of N95 masks is unacceptable and unsafe.”

The nurses’ protest Tuesday was a different picture of public pressure than has been seen in recent weeks. It comes after several protests across the country, often led and organized by conservative groups, demanding states reopen business and commerce. Those protests have often featured attendees who are not wearing masks and are not abiding by social distancing practices.

By contrast, nurses on Tuesday stood on pre-marked blue tape X's on the ground so that they could be appropriately distanced. They all wore masks. Asked about the juxtaposition, Jones, the nurse protesting for protection on her day off, said, “I don't have a problem with people exercising their right to protest. I understand that the economy is very concerning for some people -- and for all of us really. But we also need to protect lives and protect ourselves.”