Nurses read names of 50 dead colleagues at White House protest
Nurses from National Nurses United protest in front of the White House, Tuesday, April 21, 2020, in Washington, while social distancing. 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. They lay blame for the PPE shortages squarely at the feet of President Donald Trump's bungled response to the crisis. | Patrick Semansky / AP

WASHINGTON—More than a dozen nurses, clothed in their scrubs and wearing N95 anti-viral masks, marched to the White House on the morning of April 21 and read the names of 50 colleagues who have died so far in the U.S. phase of the worldwide coronavirus pandemic.

Those deaths, they said, are due to lack of personal protective equipment (PPE)—a lack their union, National Nurses United, squarely blamed upon GOP President Donald Trump and his inaction, blame-shifting, and inadequate response to the virus sweeping the globe.

Including the 50 nurses who have died so far, the coronavirus has sickened nearly 820,000 people in the U.S. at this writing—one-third of the world total—and killed over 45,000—one-fourth of the global total.

Patrick Semansky / AP

It’s also exposed enormous shortages of the masks, protective gloves, and other protective gear for the nurses and ventilators for patients. That drove NNU’s White House protest, the latest in a series of the union’s demonstrations on the issue. The others have been at hospitals nationwide.

“Happening NOW: NNU union nurses are outside the White House to honor the courageous RNs who have lost their lives on the frontlines of the #COVID19 crisis, and to demand protections for the living. No more nurse deaths!” NNU Executive Director Bonnie Castillo, RN, who led the demonstration, tweeted.

“With no federal health and safety standard” from Trump’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration, requiring hospitals and other health care facilities to implement plans to protect RNs and other health care workers from airborne viruses, the nurses are left to fend for themselves, the union said in a prior statement. NNU sought such a standard from OSHA and the agency started to work on it in early 2017, just before Trump took over. He shut the work down.

“They cannot get the PPE to protect themselves while caring for their patients,” NNU added.

“The (federal) Centers for Disease Control has also consistently weakened worker protections,” one demonstrating RN told NBC. She cited CDC’s “advice” to nurses to wear bandannas and scarves if they couldn’t obtain masks.

NNU has been the most vocal union, but not the only one, demanding Trump use the Defense Production Act to order factories to switch from producing consumer goods to producing PPE. He used it to jawbone GM, which the Auto Workers forced to close after positive coronavirus tests showed workers were endangered at its plants, into switching from vehicles to ventilators. But the firm hasn’t done so yet.

Nurses launch campaign against CDC’s OK of bandannas and scarves

Other unions citing shortages of PPE, and especially the N95 masks and respirators, include the Teachers (who also represent school nurses), the Fire Fighters, and the Machinists.

And Govs. Gretchen Whitmer, D-Mich., and J.B. Pritzker, D-Ill., whom Trump has smeared in tweets, both said in televised Q-and-As on April 21 that the federal government has fallen down on its responsibility for national coordination of demanding manufacture and overseeing equitable distribution of PPE and other equipment needed to fight the pandemic.

“We got maybe 10% of what we asked for,” Pritzker said.


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.