A civilized society enjoys an element of courtesy in its social interactions, although this courtesy can now mean a measure of self-sacrifice. If such altruistic behavior is a characteristic of humans (and other social creatures in the animal kingdom) it holds us in awe, as at present during the COVID-19 epidemic when first responders and hospital staff are taking the chances and sometimes paying the ultimate price.
How many are contracting the coronavirus because of their duty? How many are dying? How many are having to sacrifice personal contact with their loved ones to ensure their safety?
As can be expected, many have lost their lives. In Los Angeles County for example, nearly 4,300 healthcare workers and first responders had tested positive for the virus and 26 had died by mid-May. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has some incomplete but more up to date figures. They report 96,882 cases and 515 deaths as of July 10, 2020, for healthcare personnel -- death status was only available for 66 percent (63,929) of the cases. If the death rate is lower than for the general population, it is an indicator of their alertness to the illness and of accessing proper care promptly. Some of their stories are tragic:
Celia Yap-Banago died after caring for a COVID-19 patient at Research Medical Center in Kansas City, Mo., a week before she was due to retire. She was a nurse for 40 years, and at age 69, a mother figure for the nurses around her, finding it necessary thus to raise concerns about the lack of protective equipment. There
are of course many, many others who have lost their lives. Moreover, the disaster for health workers is not confined to the US.
Back in the US, National Nurses United felt obliged to write (July 1, 2020) to the House Select Subcommittee on the coronavirus report on a critical shortage of personal-protective equipment (PPE) in hospitals across the country. A 100,000-plus nurses and healthcare workers have become sick as a result and 950 have died including 144 registered nurses.
Due to a shortage of single-use N95 respirators, the nurses offer a better alternative. They recommend reusable respirators like Powered Air-Purifying Respirators (PAPRs) and also elastomeric respirators like the P100, which provide better protection. They call for an increase in the production and distribution of PAPR and P100 respirators to protect both nurses and the public.
What is appalling is that a survey of the nurses conducted by them showed that 85 percent of nurses are being asked to reuse single-use PPE, putting them at risk of exposure if the outside of the equipment comes in contact with them or their clothing. All of this is due to a shortage, leaving no other alternative.
The largest and wealthiest hospital system in America is HCA (Hospital Corporation of America). Its stock is quoted on the New York Stock Exchange. During this crisis instead of equipping nurses to perform their tasks in safety, HCA is forcing them to reuse their single-use N95 masks. In non-COVID-19 units, nurses are only provided surgical masks, and as could have been foreseen, COVID-19 outbreaks have occurred among these unprotected care givers. HCA claims, however, that it has an adequate supply chain catering to the PPE requirements of their staff.
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