During an event meant to highlight the production of personal protective equipment (PPE) for health care workers across the country, President Donald Trump issued out controversial remarks, comparing those workers to soldiers who are “running into death” on the proverbial battlefields of the coronavirus crisis.
Trump made the comments in Allentown, Pennsylvania, on Thursday during a visit to a medical equipment facility.
“The moment this terrible virus reached our shores, each of you has worked relentlessly to get the vital supplies to our health care warriors,” Trump said in a statement to workers at the Owens & Minor, Inc. Distribution Center.
“And they are warriors, aren’t they?” Trump added, apparently going off from his prepared remarks. “When you see them going into those hospitals and they’re putting the stuff that you deliver, but they’re wrapping themselves, and the doors are opening, and they’re going through the doors… they’re running into death just like soldiers run into bullets in a true sense.”
“It’s incredible to see, it’s a beautiful thing to see,” he added.
Trump: “[Doctors and nurses] are running into death just like soldiers run into bullets … it’s a beautiful thing to see.”pic.twitter.com/3d3yP2vQsS
— Brian Tyler Cohen (@briantylercohen) May 14, 2020
Many took issue with Trump’s comparing nurses, doctors and other health care workers to soldiers, especially since a number of health care facilities and hospitals across the country are dealing with PPE shortages that could help save their lives.
“If we had adequate high-quality PPE, US health care workers could deliver care safely,” Christopher Friese, a School of Nursing professor at the University of Michigan, said in a tweet in response to the president’s remarks. “That is still not the case in May 2020.”
Indeed, Trump was confronted last week with the reality of the situation on the ground, when Sophia Thomas, president of the American Association of Nurse Practitioners, described the uneven availability of PPE for workers across the country during a National Nurses Day event at the White House.
“I think it’s sporadic. As I talk to my colleagues around the country certainly there are pockets where PPE is not ideal,” Thomas said.
Trump responded to Thomas’s assessment, appearing to be visibly upset with her contradicting his previous claims that PPE supplies were adequate.
“Sporadic for you, but not for a lot of people,” he said, crossing his arms as he spoke. “Because I’ve heard the opposite, I’ve heard they are loaded up” with PPE, he added.
Yet shortages across the country are so severe that a number of hospitals are trying to come up with ways to innovate using the same PPE more than once — a practice that was unheard of in the United States prior to the coronavirus crisis. Several health care centers are attempting to utilize sterilization methods on masks and other items, for example, in order to reuse them again and again.
Health care workers across the country have held protests across the country highlighting the lack of PPE in their workplaces for several weeks now. On May Day alone, members of the nurses union National Nurses United took part in demonstrations at 139 hospitals across 13 different states to demand more supplies from employers and the government.
“Nurses signed up to care for their patients. They did not sign up to sacrifice their lives on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic,” NNU executive director Bonnie Castillo, said in a statement prior to their May 1 protest.
Several thousand health care workers have contracted COVID-19 as a result of their relentless work during the crisis. A report from April found that over 9,000 workers were diagnosed with the disease in that month alone, and at least 72 workers have died from coronavirus. However, that number is likely much higher, as there isn’t a comprehensive measure to keep track of health care workers’ deaths in the U.S. due to COVID-19 at this time.