SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Protesting six feet apart, nurses at Kaiser Permanente Roseville on Thursday called for personal protective gear including goggles, gowns and N95 masks, — a demand echoed at Kaiser South Sacramento and UC Davis Medical Center.
The nurses say they are standing on the front lines in the fight against the coronavirus with weak armor.
"It is absolutely our armor," said Cathy Kennedy from National Nurses United "If we become ill, and we can’t go to work, then what?"
With a worldwide shortage of masks, Kennedy, who has been a nurse for 40 years, said nurses are forced to take shortcuts. Normally, nurses will use a mask one time — whether surgical or respiratory.
But multiple nurses ABC10 spoke to said they're being told to reuse the same mask, despite the unsanitary conditions, risking the health of hospital staff, patients and the community.
And there does not appear to be a sense of urgency from hospital management, according Diane McClure, a registered nurse at Kaiser South Sacramento.
"We've known this virus was coming," McClure said. "We should have been prepared."
In a statement to ABC10, Dr. Stephen Parodi, Associate Executive Director at Kaiser Northern California, said the hospital is managing resources "while protecting our staff and providing them with the right protective equipment."
ABC10 pushed back, and the hospital clarified, saying that it is indeed asking workers to "continue to use N95 masks that are not soiled, per CDC guidelines for proper use, cleaning, and reuse."
And that's part of the issue, the nurses said. They want the hospitals to follow guidelines from the state’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA), which consider COVID-19 an airborne virus.
Using the Cal/OSHA's guidelines would require nurses to use N95 respiratory masks with goggles or hood with a respirator attached.
"If we don't know a patient is positive [for COVID-19], we need to treat them as though they are," McClure said.
Gov. Gavin Newsom said on Thursday while announcing a statewide "stay at home" order that officials project 56% of California's population could contract COVID-19 over an eight-week period.
Newsom also announced that there are still 10 million N95 masks being distributed throughout the state, adding that the can't "get those masks out fast enough."
Nurses say the last-minute scramble is costing lives.
"They knew about this back in January," Kennedy said. "And they chose not to really pay attention because it was over in China."
Still, Kaiser officials said the measures the hospitals are taking are more than enough "prepare for any increased volume of COVID-19 patients" and protect hospital workers at the same time.
McClure disagrees, saying that the hospital management is putting profit over people.
"Part of this is financial," McClure said. "They’re trying to worry about their bottom line, and at some point, they need to worry about the patients."
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