With coronavirus cases establishing record infections, and hospitalization cases and deaths exploding across the U.S., National Nurses United urged all school districts and policy makers in states where the pandemic shows no signs of slowing to postpone returning to an in-person learning model.
“This week, as the calls to restart in-person teaching become louder, nurses are urging caution as we note the disturbing news that the U.S. has set another sobering record with more than 66,000 new COVID-19 infections in just one day,” said Jean Ross, RN and president of National Nurses United. “This is a time for the country to proceed with the utmost care. We do not want to see our children, their families, care providers, our teachers, and all those who work in our schools put in harm’s way without the utmost consideration for the consequences. We must have robust systems in place to ensure that any and all outbreaks can be controlled quickly and safely.”
Nurses understand that working parents and families need to be supported by childcare subsidies, extended unemployment, and other social program options during this critical time. NNU has also called on the federal government and states to enact additional financial and other support for disadvantaged families whose children will be continuing to stay at home during the pandemic, such as the expanded unemployment benefits and childcare funding provided for in the Heroes Act that has been stalled in the Senate after passing the House. The Heroes Act would provide $7 billion of childcare funding and increase federal unemployment insurance by $600 per week until 2021.
Nurses have been sounding the alarm on COVID-19 since January, calling on federal, state, and local governments to take the steps necessary to protect their patients, colleagues, families, and communities. Areas that have reopened too soon are seeing surges in cases and hospitalizations.
Nurses advocate that public health decisions—such as reopening schools—be driven by the precautionary principle. The precautionary principle asserts that we should not wait for scientific proof of harm before taking action to protect people’s health. Better safe than sorry.
Right now, there are many unanswered questions about the virus that causes COVID-19 and how it impacts children. What we do know is that children can be infected and can transmit the virus to others. Bringing people together in enclosed spaces, without the robust public health infrastructure nurses have called for since the beginning of this pandemic, will undoubtedly increase the spread of the virus, impacting our children, their families, their caregivers, teachers and other school workers, and ultimately our communities.
Nurses call on the government and employers to prioritize public health by meeting the following criteria before restarting in-person classes so that this learning can happen safely.
· Public health infrastructure must be strengthened to include sufficient staffing, supplies, and space for robust surveillance, testing, case isolation, and contact tracing to ensure that the virus is effectively contained.
· Basic human needs must be met. People in America must have enhanced unemployment benefits and paid sick time and family leave; food security; housing; health care; and other social supports for people who are unemployed or unable to work due to illness or quarantine and isolation measures. Nurses say this is especially critical for African American and in many areas Latinx patients, who have died of COVID-19 in numbers as high as three to four times the rate of whites, and have lost jobs in greater percentages since March.
· Health care capacity must be expanded, and people must be able to get treatment they need if they contract COVID-19— at no cost. Any vaccine developed with U.S. taxpayer dollars must also be provided to the U.S. public for free when needed.
· Nurses and other health care workers must have the optimal personal protective equipment (PPE) they need, including powered air-purifying respirators, coveralls that incorporate head coverings and shoe coverings, and gloves. Otherwise, hospitals will remain infection epicenters that continue to infect, sicken, and kill nurses and health care workers. Without them, who will care for the next wave of patients? President Trump must activate the Defense Production Act (DPA) to order the mass production of PPE.
· CDC, WHO, OSHA guidelines and standards must be strengthened. The risk for airborne transmission of the virus is increasingly documented. Nurses demand that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization strengthen their guidelines accordingly. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) must also pass an emergency temporary standard for infectious diseases to mandate that health care employers provide protections needed for COVID-19.
· Health care capacity and preparedness must focus on human need, not profit. This pandemic has exposed underlying problems in our society, and has illuminated the damage done by economic policies that benefit our money-driven health care system, instead of human beings. Nurses have seen health care services for communities of color shuttered in recent months, as wealthy hospital corporations use COVID-19 as an excuse to close less profitable services. Nurses say the health care needs of all patients must be a priority before states can reopen.
The COVID pandemic has shown the world in the starkest terms that the health of every individual is connected to the health of another. Nurses know that public health must be prioritized as we work to protect our communities.