OAKLAND, Calif. — Holding signs reading, “PROTECT NURSES, PATIENTS, PUBLIC HEALTH,” nurses protested outside more than a half-dozen Kaiser Permanente-owned hospitals in northern California March 19. They demanded immediate action to end the scarcity of N95 masks and other gear needed to protect health care workers treating patients with coronavirus.
The N95 masks, unlike simple surgical and dust masks, can block virus particles from being inhaled. Other crucial supplies, like gowns, gloves and goggles, are also in woefully short supply.
Nurses are also outraged that the Centers for Disease Control has relaxed safety guidelines. Hospitals are now allowed to use masks over and over, and to use inferior products, even bandanas, reversing longstanding guidelines for viral outbreaks.
“We are prudently managing our resources to ensure this equipment is available for our health care workforce for the duration of this pandemic,” claimed Stephen Parodi, associate executive director of Permanente Medical Group.
Some hospital officials say they’ve gone through a three-year supply in three months.
Joel Britton, Socialist Workers Party candidate for Congress in the 13th District, talked with hospital workers outside Kaiser Permanente in Fremont March 21.
“We have to fight for masks. We are given one at a time, or none, and have to use masks over and over, for hours, with different patients,” said Ana Ramirez, a phlebotomist there.
“The nurses’ demand for immediate action must be supported,” Britton said. “Working people can and should be mobilized to respond to the crisis.”
“I saw two people come here bringing donations of masks,” Britton told Ramirez. “A nurse at Kaiser’s San Rafael Medical Center asked friends in construction to donate any N95 respirators to the hospital.”
He gave Ramirez a copy of the call to action by SWP presidential candidate Alyson Kennedy demanding the government act now to protect working people and humankind.
“The successful fight by nurses in the California Nurses Association and hospital workers who are members of the National Union of Healthcare Workers to prevent Seton hospital in Daly City from being closed is an example to be emulated,” Britton said. On March 19 Gov. Gavin Newsom announced the state will keep the hospital open for at least a few more months to treat COVID-19 patients.