Unions representing front-line hospital and health-care workers applauded the recently-announced Protect Our Heroes Act of 2020, which would provide $11 billion to purchase and manufacture personal protective equipment ahead of a second wave of COVID.
The bill, which was introduced by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, would provide $10 billion to the Strategic National Stockpile to purchase N95 respirators, medical gowns, face shields and other critical protective equipment. There have been more than 12 million coronavirus cases and 260,000 deaths in the U.S., with numbers expected to increase dramatically as the country heads into a second wave.
'Avoid Repeat of Shortages'
“We all remember the early days of the crisis, when too many of our health-care professionals were forced to jury-rig masks and gloves from spare clothing or bits of string—and we do not want to see that again,” Mr. Schumer said. “The recent surge in cases –and looming PPE shortages—might bring us all back to, or beyond, the peak levels we saw earlier this year, which is why we must do everything in our power to avoid a repeat of the widespread PPE shortages.”
The plan also uses the Defense Production Act to expand the development of personal protective equipment. The bill would create a $1-billion grant program for small businesses in order to help them produce PPE. It also would require the Federal Government to regularly release reports on how much PPE is needed to fight COVID.
As cases of coronavirus began occurring during the spring, the country’s supply chains for personal protective equipment broke under the increased demand. Experts, including American Medical Association President Susan Bailey, believed that PPE shortages could continue for years without strong intervention from the government.
The shortage of PPE contributed to the U.S. Centers for Disease for Disease Control and Prevention loosening its recommendations for protective equipment worn by health-care staff back in March. About 160,000 health-care workers have contracted the virus, according to the CDC.
Believes Number's Higher
The National Nurses United, the country’s largest nurses union, projected that a far larger number of health-care staff—about 260,000—have gotten sick. It also estimated that more than 1,700 health-care workers have died from COVID.
New York State Nurses Association Executive Director Pat Kane, who represents 37,000 nurses across the state, urged Congress to pass the Protect Our Heroes Act.
“It's been nearly nine months since the wrath of this pandemic began and front-line health-care workers still do not have the PPE we need to stay safe and save lives,” she said. “Early on, nurses were calling for the Federal Government to use the full force of the Defense Production Act to get us this crucial PPE. With COVID-19 now surging across the country again, with even greater force, a comprehensive Federal response is more urgent than ever."
Kevin Collins, the executive director of the Doctors Council, also praised the bill. “If you think of doctors and other health-care workers as the soldiers on the front lines, then you’ve got to give them the tools to fight this so they don’t become casualties themselves,” he said during a phone interview.
Shortages 'A Disgrace'
He added that the supply chain for PPE in the U.S. “has been a disgrace.”
“You had states competing against states, hospitals competing against hospitals, and that’s not the way it should be,” Mr. Collins said.
But he also highlighted the need for hazard pay for frontline workers risking themselves everyday
“As much as we applaud money being invested in the stockpile, we really should also be calling for hazard pay for those who worked through the first wave,” Mr. Collins stated.
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