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March 4, 2020 – On Monday afternoon, the nation’s largest union of registered nurses sent a letter to Vice President Mike Pence, Ambassador Deborah Birx, members of Congress, and other key officials in the administration, demanding a quick and meaningful response to the outbreak of novel coronavirus across the nation. National Nurses United, which represents more than 150,000 registered nurses across the country, called on the federal government to ensure that all health care workers receive the highest level of protection, and to act immediately to pass an emergency spending package to fully fund the response to the outbreak.

“As the nation braces to confront the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) that is quickly spreading across the world, National Nurses United, the largest union for registered nurses in the United States, has been closely monitoring the situation in our hospitals,” wrote the presidents of NNU, registered nursesDeborah Burger, Zenei Cortez, and Jean Ross. “It is critical that the federal government take quick and meaningful steps to urgently protect the public from this outbreak.”

The letter provided detailed policy recommendations. The union urged the administration and Congress to adopt the following:

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  1. Ensure that all nurses and health care workers receive the highest level of protection in their workplaces, as determined by the precautionary principle, which means erring on the side of safety and taking action even before you know something is unsafe.
  2. Improve the Centers for Disease Control screening criteria and testing capacity to ensure prompt recognition of and response to new cases.
  3. Promulgate an Emergency Temporary Standard through the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to protect health care workers from emerging infectious diseases as soon as possible.
  4. Ensure that any vaccine or treatment that is developed with U.S. taxpayer dollars is provided to the public for free.
  5. Act immediately to pass an emergency spending package to fully fund the response to this outbreak, including dedicated funds for protective equipment for workers, temporary paid sick leave, and coverage of all treatment, care, and services for people with potential COVID-19 infection.

The union is currently conducting a survey of RNs to gather information on hospital preparedness to protect workers and patients from COVID-19 infections during the outbreak. The latest results of that survey will be released later this week. In the letter issued today, the NNU presidents wrote to theadministration and Congress that the survey results thus far show that facilities have not been prepared to safely respond to the outbreak.

The nurse union leaders also implored the government to recognize the systemic problems in the nation’s health care infrastructure. The union pointed to underfunding of critical public health infrastructure, the lack of guaranteed universal health care, and the for-profit motive in the health care industry as issues that impede the nation’s ability to adequately respond to an emerging infectious disease threat.

“At the moment, we have a fragmented and broken public health infrastructure which is woefully unprepared for COVID-19,” the document reads.

National Nurses United is the largest and fastest-growing union and professional association of registered nurses in the United States, with more than 150,000 members nationwide. www.nationalnursesunited.org