The number of coronavirus cases in the United States has passed 1,000 Tuesday, with the rate of infections likely increasing. Despite this, the U.S. continues to lag on testing, and healthcare workers say they lack adequate protection and protocols to allow them to safely care for infected patients. They also say the country’s hospitals are woefully unprepared to handle the crisis. Nurses in the hot zones of California and Washington had already reported having to beg for face masks and lacking guidance on how to address the virus. We are joined by Jean Ross, president of National Nurses United (NNU), the largest organization of registered nurses in the United States, which says Centers for Disease Control actually weakened its guidelines on responding to the pandemic by rolling back requirements for protective gear, not requiring infected patients to be in negative pressure isolation rooms at all times, and decreasing healthcare worker protections. In response, nurses with the NNU are holding a national day of action today to demand better protections for healthcare workers and the public. We are also joined by Alicia Garza with the National Domestic Workers Alliance and Black Futures Lab, a co-founder of the Black Lives Matter Global Network, and Naomi Klein, senior correspondent at The Intercept and the inaugural Gloria Steinem chair of media, culture and feminist studies at Rutgers University.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: We turn now to look at how healthcare workers are being put at risk as the coronavirus pandemic continues to spread. The number of cases in the U.S. passed 1,000 Tuesday, with the rate of infections likely increasing. Thirty-two people in the country have died. Despite this, the U.S. continues to lag on testing, and healthcare workers say they lack adequate protection and protocols to allow them to safely care for infected patients. They also say the country’s hospitals are woefully unprepared to handle the crisis. Nurses in the hot zones of California and Washington had already reported having to beg for face masks and decried a systemic lack of guidance on how to address the virus. But Tuesday, National Nurses United said the Centers for Disease Control actually weakened its guidelines on responding to the pandemic.
AMY GOODMAN: In response, nurses with the National Nurses United and the California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee are holding a national day of action today to demand better protections for healthcare workers and the public. This all comes as coronavirus has also rallied nurses around the fight for Medicare for All. On Tuesday, Vice President Mike Pence spoke about health insurance for people who contract coronavirus.
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VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: Today, President Trump assembled a top health insurance executives in America. And as we announced earlier today, all of our major health insurance companies have now joined with Medicare and Medicaid and agreed to waive all copays, cover the cost of all treatment for those who contract the coronavirus. They have committed to no surprise billing. And they’ve committed to encourage telemedicine.
AMY GOODMAN: Bonnie Castillo, executive director of National Nurses United, tweeted earlier this week, “#COVID19 lays bare truths #nurses know all too well: our health care system is cruel, inhumane, & inefficient. It is our duty to protect public health. We MUST rise to the challenge. Any vaccine or treatment developed with taxpayer dollars must be provided free of charge.”
Well, for more, we go to Minneapolis, where we’re joined by National Nurses United President Jean Ross. Still with us, The Intercept’s Naomi Klein and Alicia Garza, who’s with National Domestic Workers Alliance.
Jean Ross, thank you for joining us. Talk about today’s day of action, what you’re calling for, and where Medicare for All fits into this story in this time of coronavirus.
JEAN ROSS: Well, basically, we’re calling for protections for registered nurses and other healthcare workers, who are the people that are going to be caring for the COVID-19-affected patients. Right now we did a survey at the end of February, and what we found was only 29% of our nurses and other nurses that were surveyed said that there was a plan in place to deal with any of these patients. Twenty-two percent said they didn’t even know if there was a plan. We had only 63% that said they had enough N95 respirators. Twenty-three percent said they had what we call PAPRs, powered air purifying respirators. Only 30% said they could come up with enough what we call PPE, personal protective equipment, should there be a surge in COVID-19 patients. And some said they just plain didn’t know. And we have been calling for this protection for healthcare workers, not just for many months now, but also, if you recall, since the Ebola crisis hit our shores. And sad to say, we are still very lacking.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Could you talk about the most vulnerable communities, including undocumented immigrants and those with no health insurance whatsoever, what prevents them then to go to a hospital to seek care even if they get sick?
JEAN ROSS: Well, if we had a national healthcare system, like some other countries do, we would be in a far better position. For example, if you look at a country like Canada, who had to undergo the SARS crisis, and they were able to do it in large part because of that system. We have such a patchwork here that’s dependent on profit. Then our homeless communities, our immigrants, that you mentioned, those of lower economic status are going to be the ones hardest hit. They’re going to not want to come in, because they don’t have the money to pay. They may or may not have heard about what the vice president just said. But that still is insurance companies, for-profit companies, deciding what they’ll do, and not our government, our society, deciding what we’ll do for people who need care.
AMY GOODMAN: Exit polls in every state voting Super Tuesday 2 showed strong support for Medicare for All, including in Mississippi, where it has the backing of nearly two-thirds of Democratic voters. But speaking on MSNBC Monday, Joe Biden indicated, if elected president, he would veto Medicare for All legislation should Congress send it to his desk. This is what he said.
LAWRENCE O’DONNELL: You’re president. Bernie Sanders is still active in the Senate. He manages to get Medicare for All through the Senate in some compromised version, the Elizabeth Warren version or other version. Nancy Pelosi gets a version of it through the House of Representatives. It comes to your desk. Do you veto it?
JOE BIDEN: I would veto anything that delays providing the security and the certainty of healthcare being available now. If they got that through, and by some miracle, and there was an epiphany that occurred, and some miracle occurred that said, “OK, it’s passed,” then you’ve got to look at the cost. I want to know: How did they find the $35 trillion? What is that doing? Is it going to significantly raise taxes on the middle class? Which it will. What’s going to happen? Look, my opposition isn’t to the principle that there should be — you should have Medicare. I mean, if everybody — healthcare should be a right in America. My opposition relates to whether or not, A, it’s doable, two, what the cost is, and what the consequences for the rest of the budget are.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s Joe Biden. Jean Ross, president of National Nurses United, let’s get your response, then Alicia Garza and Naomi Klein.
JEAN ROSS: Well, first of all, it’s not that healthcare should be a human right. It just plain is. And we see now that the American people agree with us. As far as cost, I believe he knows exactly what it’s costing now, and we can’t afford what we are doing. So, any costs that would be incurred with putting it in place would be far outweighed by the savings that we would have afterward. I’m afraid that until we keep insisting that those for-profit insurance companies are part of a system, we will never achieve what we need to guarantee care for everyone as a human right.
AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go to Alicia Garza, who, among the hats she wears, is with the National Domestic Workers Alliance. Alicia?
ALICIA GARZA: I mean, if nothing else, we can see here that Joe Biden is not Obama. And frankly, I would agree that what’s at stake here are millions of workers, many of whom are immigrant workers and workers of color and women and people who are trying to put food on their tables while also caring for other people, and doing so in the midst, as I said earlier, of a global pandemic. I work with domestic workers, who are people who work inside of people’s homes. For us, a home is a workplace. And frankly, domestic workers are locked out of most federal labor protections that should protect all workers, that would give workers sick days and paid time off. And we’re seeing that in the midst of this pandemic, the real kind of underpinnings of the abuses that workers are facing in this economy are coming to broad daylight. Domestic workers already don’t have access to paid time off, paid sick days, etc., and are caring for some of the most vulnerable people in our society and helping to make families make ends meet.
And so, one of the things that we’re really concerned about is making sure that, at the very least, that there is an expansion of access to the things that people need, particularly in this type of crisis, but in general and overall. People need access to affordable and quality healthcare. And in this very moment, people also need to be able to take time off, take care of their families and take sick days, or else this global pandemic will continue to spread. And under this current administration, I don’t think there’s any reason for us to think that they’ve got it under control. In fact, that could have happened months ago, and now we are in a situation where, as we understand it, containment is not possible. So, what we can do in this moment is make sure, particularly, that the people who are caring for folk who have been affected by this crisis, including nurses, including domestic workers, are well taken care of in this moment. And a way to do that is to make sure that protections are strong. And another way to do that is to make sure that we’re holding this administration accountable for keeping insurance companies in check, and that we’re holding —
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Alicia, if I could just cut you off a second, because we just have about 30 seconds. We want to get Naomi to get her final words in on this.
NAOMI KLEIN: Well, look, I agree completely. This administration is uniquely ill-equipped to deal with this crisis, because they are not treating it as a health crisis. They’re treating it as a PR crisis. They’ve shown again and again that they — when they don’t like reality, they just try to bury it, I mean, in the same way that they don’t want to talk about what our satellites are measuring in terms of climate change, in the same that they suppress the number of people who died after Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. Now they think that by not testing, this crisis is going to go away. And we need leadership that actually is guided by objective reality and science, and puts people first.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to have to leave it there, but of course we continue with you. Tomorrow we’re going to focus on the issue of paid sick leave and so much more, bringing you updates from New Rochelle, the epicenter in the country, and other places around the world. Naomi Klein, senior correspondent at The Intercept, inaugural Gloria Steinem chair of media, culture and feminist studies at Rutgers University; Alicia Garza with the National Domestic Workers Alliance, Black Futures Lab, Black Lives Matter Global Network; and Jean Ross, president of National Nurses United, speaking to us from Minneapolis. That does it for our show. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González. Thanks so much for joining us, and be safe.