Front line workers can’t wait for PPE any longer


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The coronavirus has caused fear and anxiety for people all over the world, but for front line workers like nurses, doctors, and retail workers, the fear is unlike what the rest of us can imagine.

The U.S. has come to the table during this pandemic woefully underprepared. Not only have we failed to invest in hospital beds and space, but health care workers of all stripes lack the personal protective equipment (PPE) they need to safely treat patients who fall ill, and even at this stage not enough is being done federally to mitigate the problem.

We spoke with David Pickus, a former Universal Health Care Foundation board member, and the former president of the New England Health Care Employees Union, to get a better sense of what’s happening on the front lines.

“Generally, people are scared to death,” Pickus said. “Our members, they want to be able to take care of their patients and that means they need to have the proper equipment,” he said, adding that they know that “without the equipment they’re going to get the disease.”

Not only are they exposed to the virus much more than people who have the ability to work from home, but their exposure to the public sets them up to be spreaders of the virus as well.

In an op-ed from the CT Mirror, written by Julia Rosenberg and Kiki Kennedy, two women who work as physicians in New Haven, they describe the collective anxiety that they will not have the resources to contain the spread.

“Our precious, but quickly depleting supply of masks, gowns, gloves, and face shields protects not only frontline medical providers from contracting COVID-19 (so that we can continue giving needed medical care), but they also protect our patients. Personal protective equipment is fundamental to preventing the spread of disease. It’s been demonstrated to be a key protective factor in slowing the spread of COVID-19 in places like Singapore and Hong Kong.

But U.S. hospital supplies of PPE are running dangerously low. Even here, in Connecticut, some health systems could run out of PPE by this weekend,” they wrote in the op-ed which appeared March 25.

In both our conversation with Pickus and the op-ed in the Mirror, there was a shared sense of frustration on the failure at the federal level to meaningfully redirect resources to struggling health care providers.

“The president has the authority to call on the defense act to manufacture some of this stuff, but he thinks politically it might be considered bad. Who cares what it’s going to be considered?” Pickus said.

Rosenberg and Kennedy said that “reliance on a piecemeal volunteer response” will not satisfy the dire need that has to be met. The only answer, they wrote, is “a centralized, all-hands-on-deck, federally-coordinated response to increase domestic manufacturing of CDC-level PPE.”

Make no mistake, this is a policy issue. Pickus, Rosenberg, and Kennedy all agree that what folks at home can do right now is call their government leaders and tell them that getting proper protective equipment to the frontlines of this pandemic needs to be a priority.

Currently, U.S. Senator Chris Murphy and U.S. Senator Brian Schatz have introduced a bill that would force President Trump to utilize the Defense Production Act, and would result in the mass production of PPE for front line workers. If you’re able, call your friends and family all over the country and urge them to call their congressional leaders in support of this bill.

You can find and contact your representatives at this link.

Full CT Mirror Op-Ed available here.