Nurses of America continue to fight for the lives damaged by COVID-19

by Jada Ingelton and Izabella Perez

FIGHT FOR YOUR RIGHT: Registered nurses exercise their Constitutional right to freedom of assembly at the organized peaceful protest in front of the White House on Tuesday, April 21. The group continued to stay six feet apart as they protested against the lack of personal protective equipment, which played a role in the deaths of approximately forty-six nurses. Photo courtesy of USA Today

    In the wake of the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19), a fatal pandemic, many state governors and officials have taken to closing down and withholding businesses in an effort to reduce and prevent the spread of infection. Schools, retail stores and even some bank branches have all been on a temporary shut down as the regulations of social distancing have been significantly enforced worldwide. While many have taken the notion to participate in these measures, some essential workers have continued to go to work every day. Putting other’s safety and health above their own, nurses in particular are one group of essential employees that have used their continued work efforts to make a difference in the lives of those who need it.

    COVID-19 is an infectious airborne disease that has spread across more than 200 countries and territories, as well as infecting millions of people. Nurses everywhere have been adamant in doing their part to help treat as many patients as possible and keep them quarantined away from others that they could possibly spread it to. By going to work every day, let alone having to work around and with said contracted patients, the nurses put the lives of themselves and their families at risk. Despite their best efforts, 3.25 million people have been confirmed to have contracted the virus, with 213 thousand deaths following. Of those 213 thousand, more than 200 nurses have died combating it and over a thousand have contracted COVID-19. The nurses were honored by National Nurses United, the largest union of registered nurses in the country, in front of the White House on Tuesday, April 21. The union of nurses read the names of the late frontline workers, standing in protest against the lack of personal protective equipment. 

“More than seven in ten of our nurses are reporting exposure to COVID-19 and most are still untested,” New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA) Executive Director Pat Kane said, in an address to the lawsuits being filed against the New York State Department of Health. “We cannot allow these dangerous practices to continue.”

There are currently two ways to test for COVID-19: molecular tests and serological tests. The molecular tests look for signs of an active infection and are performed by swabbing the back of the throat with a cotton swab. This is currently the way most people are tested for the virus. Serological tests detect antibodies that the body naturally produces to fight off the virus and is usually tested with a blood sample. With testing readily available at hospitals and testing centers worldwide, nurses should have reasonable and easy access to keeping their health in check, however, for many cities and institutions that is not the case. 

“Nurses protested today because we need to stop the spread of the virus and to do that, nurses and other health care workers need the optimal personal protective equipment to do their jobs safely,” Deborah Burger, co-president of National Nurses United, said in a statement to USA TODAY.  “It is inexcusable that Congress is debating a new COVID-19 interim package without including a mandatory OSHA (Optimal Safety and Health Administration) standard for health care workers in the bill.”

The possibility of spreading COVID-19 is a concern taking priority in many healthcare workers’ minds. To avoid possibly infecting their loved ones when coming home, these workers have come up with a routine to avoid possibly spreading the disease. While the routine may vary from worker to worker, it mainly consists of stripping yourself of the clothes worn that may have come into contact with the virus before entering the home and disinfecting any items that cannot be thrown away. Workers with family take extra care in this process, not wanting to risk infecting their loved ones.

“I live with my pregnant wife, son and two dogs. My wife is also a nurse. We try to strip down as soon as possible when coming in the door, clothes straight to the laundry,” says an emergency department nurse who wished to remain anonymous for fear of workplace repercussions. “I’ve been spraying off my shoes, pen and badge with disinfectant, and then it’s straight to the shower.”

    While the nurses of the world have continued to showcase what it means to be committed to their job, many factors still may put them at a struggle. The American Nurses Association’s (ANA) Code of Ethics for Nurses with Interpretive Statements (2015) is the nursing profession’s nonnegotiable ethical practice standard. (“Coronavirus Update.” ANA.) Within this standard, a number of provisions portray the duties and directives of nurses, including Provision 2 which states that a nurse’s primary commitment is to their patient. However, in Provision 5, a contradictory statement marks that a nurse owes the same duty to themself as to others. These two provisions limit the availability of nurses working on the COVID-19 cases, as they also must be mindful and considerate of their own health and security. Along with this aspect, the number of nurses in the workforce is not nearly as much as one would believe. According to a study done in 2018, the global shortage of nurses is around 5.6 million. With the employees barely being supported, the nursing profession can use as much support as possible ineffectively powering through these drastic times. 

“People will die because, realistically speaking, you cannot attend to ten, 20 or 30 patients by yourself,” said emergency room nurse Katherine Ramos of New York. “How could you possibly give the care, the quality care that is necessary? You can’t.”

    One way nurses have been offered some relief is through the passing of the CARES, or Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act. This act includes over 2 trillion dollars in spending and tax breaks to go towards helping health care providers and the economy respond to the pandemic. ANA has also played a major role in contributing to as much relief efforts for nurses as possible. The persistent and supportive legislation provides a total of 17.5 billion dollars for necessities such as life-saving medicine, critical medical supplies, personal protective equipment and contract tracing to identify additional cases.

As more information is being learned and released about COVID-19, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updates their site and releases guidelines hospitals should follow concerning hospitalization of patients that have contracted COVID-19 as well as testing for the virus. The CDC states that all hospitals should prevent the spread of all respiratory diseases, identify and isolate all patients tested positive for COVID-19 as well as any patients that could possibly be tested positive and monitor any healthcare personnel that might have been exposed to the virus. Hospitals are adhering to these guidelines by making separate rooms and floors dedicated to treating patients with coronavirus and having one nurse test a patient instead of having a team do it to lower the risk of infection. The necessary protection is also provided for nurses when treating patients.

INCHING TOWARDS TREATMENT: A drive-through testing center at the University of Washington Medical Center enables nurses to participate in testing and treating students and faculty who may have contracted COVID-19. Experts and nurses have diagnosed, properly treated, and expanded their knowledge on the spread of the pandemic with the swabs of saliva taken from patients. Photo courtesy of 

“We have to accept that this is a tremendous challenge for the health care system,” Dr. Omar B. Lateef of Rush University Medical Center said. “If we allow uncontrolled spread, we will be overwhelmed. But if we practice mitigation, then hospitals can handle it.”  

    The COVID-19 fight is long from over. With not enough nurses to tend to people in hospitals and the risk of these nurses possibly spreading the virus to others, one can anticipate this battle lasting for many more months. However, these healthcare workers will not give up treating patients and are praising others for practicing social distancing and their innovative ways to stay safe amiss this pandemic

    “I am just in love with the innovation now that I’m seeing. It makes me smile. As nurse leaders, we really need to support innovation by empowering others to implement solutions and discover those who are doing out-of-the-box thinking,” said president and night shift supervisor for the cardiovascular ICU at Medical City Dallas Megan Brunson.