Amid a steep surge in COVID-19 cases fueled by the Omicron variant, thousands of nurses on Thursday staged nationwide protests against staff shortage in hospitals and nursing homes across the US.
The protests were held under the banner of National Nurses United (NNU), a labor union with more than 175,000 members nationwide, which called on the hospital industry to "invest in safe staffing."
Hospitals in the US, the worst-hit country in the world, have been struggling to cope up with the new tide of COVID-19 cases in recent weeks, as well as worker shortages and burnout.
Nurses are furious over sheer callousness and indifference shown by the government as well as their employers, blaming them for caring about their businesses, not the public health.
The protests took place across 11 US states and Washington, D.C. “to demand the hospital industry invest in safe staffing, and to demand that President Biden follow through on his campaign promise to protect nurses and prioritize public health,” according to the union.
A candlelight vigil was held in Washington, D.C. for nurses who lost their lives to the pandemic. The participants urged the hospital industry to invest in safe staffing, and urged Joe Biden’s administration to follow through on his campaign promise to protect nurses and prioritize public health.
They accused the Biden administration of taking away critical protections from health care workers and the public in recent weeks, with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) weakening COVID-19 isolation guidelines and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) announcing that it intends to withdraw critical COVID-19 protections for health care workers.
NURSES RALLY: At Howard Hospital, dozens of nurses are call for more staffing and improved working conditions at US hospitals. The District of Columbia Nurses Association represents 2000+ local health workers. It’s leadership says nurses need additional help amid COVID-19 pic.twitter.com/YqndMtR64t— Justin Finch (@JustinNBC4) January 13, 2022
The highly transmissible omicron variant has been fueling a surge in new virus cases across the country, and now accounts for 98% of all cases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The problem has been compounded by severe staff crunch, insufficient resources and worsening conditions. Health experts say that while the variant may cause less severe symptoms in vaccinated people, it’s still dangerous for people who are unvaccinated.
In a statement on Tuesday, NNU President, Zenei Triunfo-Cortez, said the severe shortage of nurses was making the fight against the pandemic increasingly difficult in the US.
“As we enter year three of the deadliest pandemic in our lifetimes, nurses are enraged to see that, for our government and our employers, it’s all about what’s good for business, not what’s good for public health,” said Triunfo-Cortez
“Our employers claim there is a ‘nursing shortage,’ and that’s why they must flout optimal isolation times, but we know there are plenty of registered nurses in this country. There is only a shortage of nurses willing to work in the unsafe conditions created by hospital employers and this government’s refusal to impose lifesaving standards. So this is a vicious cycle where weakening protections just drives more nurses away from their jobs,” he hastened to add.
On Thursday, Chicago nurses also joined the protest against working conditions that they claim have rapidly deteriorated amid the increasing rush of COVID-19 patients.
Scott Mechanic, 36, an emergency room nurse at the University of Chicago Medical Center, was quoted as saying by Bloomberg that problems stem from “widespread labor shortages throughout the health-care system and hospital leadership who are reluctant to provide assistance.”
“We don’t have food service people … we don’t have supply chain people to deliver our most critical supplies, we don’t have people to repair our equipment,” Mechanic said. “But every job that doesn’t get done by somebody else ends up falling to the bedside nurse. We’re overwhelmed.”
Chicago estimates that 56% of Black residents have received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, lagging White and Latino people in the city. The CDC has recorded similar data, reporting that 54% of Black Americans have received one COVID-19 vaccine dose.
Meanwhile, in a major blow to the Biden administration, the US Supreme Court on Thursday blocked the government’s COVID-19 vaccination-or-testing mandate for large businesses in the country.
The mandate required workers at large American companies to be vaccinated or masked and tested on the weekly basis, which many saw as improper imposition on the lives and health of people.