April 28, 2020; Teen Vogue

In a public statement, the largest union of nurses in the country has positioned itself against calls to open the economy if immediate basic measures are not taken to protect health workers and cover basic human needs.

National Nurses United released a statement earlier this week to warn against a premature opening of the country that places profit over people. It reads, “While considering ‘reopening the country,’ nurses also emphasize that this pandemic has exposed underlying problems in our society and illuminated the damage done by neoliberal economic policies that are beneficial to a limited few and a profit-driven health care system.”

The health care capacity in many parts of the country is maxed out, and nurses, paramedics, doctors, and other frontline responders have had to face, among other essential workers, the brunt of the COVID-19 epidemic, both physically and emotionally.

We might never know the actual number of deaths among healthcare workers, as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has only tracked 16 percent of the nation’s COVID-cases based on professional occupation, but as of April 15th, it reported 9,200 COVID-positive people in the health sector. The number is probably much higher, reports The Guardian.

Under the hashtag #TheSystemIsBroken and the slogan “Patients Before Profits”, hospital workers came out to protest on April 15th on a National Healthcare Day of Action to protest conservative voices in the Trump administration that are pushing for opening the economy. They protested a blind willingness to place everyone at risk by relaxing distancing measures while healthcare facilities still lack personal protective equipment (PPE), staffing, supplies, testing, and case isolation.

Teen Vogue talked to several nurses on the streets of New York who joined the national protest, asking people to stop calling them heroes:

I don’t want to be called a hero, but I also don’t want to let people die. Calling me a hero empowers you to tell me that’s enough because that’s the highest compliment that you can give me. I don’t need a compliment; I need safe staffing…I need the right equipment that works.

And this talk about opening back up the economy? More people will die for sure. Opening up the economy is saying, “We don’t mind if some people die.” It’s not the rich people you know working from home on their Zoom calls who are going to die. It’s not.

National Nurses United have indicated that a minimum, President Trump must activate the Defense Production Act (DFA) to order the mass production of PPE. That has yet to occur, yet the industrial farming lobby was able to push him to invoke the DFA to sign an executive order to keep meat processing plants open, despite the large numbers of workers who have died in those facilities.

“People in America must have enhanced unemployment benefits and paid sick time and family leave; food security; housing; healthcare; and other social supports for people who are unemployed or unable to work due to illness or quarantine and isolation measures,” is a basic understanding that most people in the United States understand and share with the nurses’ union.

At the heart of the issue, the system is indeed broken, when the echelons to power—where systemic change is needed—are impossible to climb by the underserved, essential workers, and core nonprofit advocates who are bearing the brunt of this pandemic.— Sofia Jarrin-Thomas