May 14th 2020

Registered nurses protested outside the White House on May 7 over the continuing shortage of personal protective equipment for the health care workers fighting to save lives in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

CNN reported that the nurses—wearing surgical masks and standing six feet apart–stood outside the White House next to 88 pairs of empty white shoes to signify the 88 nurses they said had died over the course of the past two months after being exposed to Covid-19 at work.

According to the AFL-CIO, as of the end of April, at least 16,000 US health care workers have been infected with Covid-19, a total that may be an undercount because of the lack of testing.

Covid-19 has changed lives across the globe. It has also changed what nurses do, making their jobs immeasurably riskier and more challenging.

Now, nurses and other healthcare workers are being deployed en masse to hospitals in different cities; some have been forced to transform their work spaces into coronavirus triage centers; others help operate Covid-19 testing sites.

“I feel like we’re cannon fodder,” said Elizabeth Lalasz, a union steward for National Nurses United.

“There’s so much uncertainty. It’s very disconcerting for us to not know if we’re going to be protected.”

“You talk about how essential, how needed, how grateful you are, and yet you throw us to the wolves,” said NNU President Jean Ross, who addressed the crowd.

“You are throwing us onto a battlefield without armor… and we don’t see anything being done.”

Health-care providers have for months asked lawmakers and the administration for more protective equipment to shield themselves, their patients and their family members from Covid-19.

NNU members say they aren’t getting the help they need from the administration.

“We stand here today with heavy hearts but with fierce determination,” said Stephanie Simms, a registered nurse in Washington, DC.

“Every nurse, on every shift, in every hospital is putting themselves on the line during this pandemic.”

“Nurses signed up to care for their patients. They did not sign up to sacrifice their lives,” says NNU Executive Director Bonnie Castillo.