Some local healthcare workers walked out of their hospital on their lunch break to protest what they say is a lack of equipment meant to protect them while on the front lines of the fight against COVID-19.
Nurses with UC San Diego Health called on their hospital to provide the personal protective equipment (PPE) necessary to do their jobs safely while the novel coronavirus spreads through San Diego County.
“That’s my fear. I don’t want to get exposed. Then I’ll bring it to my family, the public, the community,” says Dahlia Tayag, a Nurse at UCSD Health Hillcrest.
Tayag stood beside some of her colleagues, six feet apart, with handmade face masks as they protested the lack of personal protective equipment at their hospital.
Until a couple of weeks ago, most nurses were given N95 respirators but that changed when the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) loosened its guidelines to citing the nationwide shortage.
The CDC created a checklist for hospitals to use in order to extend their N95 supply in "periods of expected or known N95 respirator shortages." Some of the suggestions include, reusing N95 respirators for patients with COVID-19, using N95 respirators beyond the manufacture-designated shelf life and prioritizing the use of N95 respirators by activity type.
At UC San Diego Health that means only staff in the Intensive Care Unit like Shannon Cotton are given respirators. All others are given respirators on a case-by-case basis.
“Honestly when I show up to work every day it’s very anxiety-provoking,” says Shannon Cotton, an ICU Nurse at UCSD Health Hillcrest.
UC San Diego Health reassures their staff that they have enough PPE.
"Currently, UC San Diego Health has sufficient supplies of personal protective equipment, including masks and respirators, to meet the needs for patients and health workers alike," the hospital said in a statement to NBC 7.
The hospital is accepting donated PPE equipment from the public but nurses at the protest said the hospital hasn’t distributed them.
“If nurses get sick that’s on them,” says Kennedy.
“We don’t want to lose any one of us. That would be really really heartbreaking,” says Tayag.
Some nurses say they have been threatened with disciplinary action for bringing in their own PPE.
In response to that UCSD Health says “Current masking guidelines at UC San Diego Health contain no reference to disciplinary action. Use is guided by what is deemed safe and appropriate in the clinical setting, and provides significant flexibility for assessing the needs of both patients and staff.”
Nurses say they haven’t received the additional equipment promised by the state and federal government.
County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher said at the county's daily news briefing on Friday more than 428,000 N95 masks have been secured in coordination with the state and federal governments.
Health and Human Services Agency (HHSA) Medical Services Administrator Rob Sills, who is coordinating the county's emergency supply said he discusses the PPE supply with each of the county's emergency managers daily.
"I ask each of the command centers, their emergency managers, 'Do you have what you need?' 'Are you getting what you need?' and the answer is yes," Sills said Friday. "We push out the resources as we get them and, to date, we have not turned down any of those to any of our hospitals."