US health care workers have been praised as the heroes in this pandemic. But they're also the victims. COVID-19 has killed almost 300 of them, NPR reports. CDC data also show that more than 60,000 health care workers have been infected with the coronavirus. "It is underreported," said the president of National Nurses United. The union recently surveyed 23,000 nurses, more than 80% of whom said they had not been tested for the coronavirus. Union leaders are concerned that, during the crisis, unsafe practices—including a lack of adequate personal protective equipment—will become the norm. There are no federal workplace rules specifically protecting health care workers from airborne pathogens such as the coronavirus; in 2017, the Trump administration blocked new regulations from taking effect that would have required the industry to prepare for a pandemic like this one, per NPR.
Health care workers who speak out about the dangers, including those posed by a lack of PPE, are risking their jobs, per an opinion piece in the Hill. Nonetheless, professional groups, including Physicians for Human Rights, have advised health care workers that they have an ethical responsibility to come forward about the problems. A Washington Post-Ipsos survey of medical personnel completed early this month found major PPE shortages. Workers have staged protests to call for more and better protective equipment, including a nationwide event May 1, per CBS. On Thursday, Tennessee launched a COVID-19 Emotional Support Line—888-642-7886—for health care workers and front-line personnel dealing with the pandemic, per WBIR. (Doctors in Germany held a naked protest to call attention to the PPE shortage.)