Nationwide survey: Most nurses have not been tested for COVID-19 and are forced to reuse face masks

Nurses and nursing organizations rally at the Capitol in Tallahassee. Credit: Issac Morgan

During the global health crisis, nearly all nurses have been forced to reuse face masks or respirators and haven’t even been tested for COVID-19 —despite increased risks of exposure, according to a national survey released by the National Nurses United.

NNU, a large nationwide union representing registered nurses, surveyed almost 23,000 nurses across the United States, and found “that dangerous health care workplace conditions have become the norm” since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The survey was conducted from April 15 to May 10. Data show 87 percent of respondents reported having to reuse “a single-use disposable respirator or mask” while caring for a COVID-19 patient.

According to the union, the reuse of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) increases exposure of COVID-19 to patients, nurses, and other health care staff.

Here’s a previous Florida Phoenix report on personal protective equipment (PPE) shortages among nurses.

“Nurses know that it’s improper infection control to wear them again,” Jean Ross, a president of the National Nurses United, said in a video news release.

“In fact, before COVID-19, if we had reused our same N95 respirator masks all day between multiple patients, and then put it in a paper bag, as we’re being told to do, we would have been fired,” Ross said.

Meanwhile, few nurses have been tested for the virus. The survey results show nearly 84 percent of nurses reported they have not yet been tested, compared to 16 percent of respondents who said they have received a test.

According to a May 2019 report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 181,670 registered nurses work in various health care settings in Florida. That report shows nearly 3 million registered nurses employed in the United States.

In April, the National Nurses United reported that at least 64 nurses nationwide have died of COVID-19. But now death rates among nurses have increased, with more than 100 nurses who have succumbed to the respiratory illness caused by the coronavirus, as of May.

“We found out that we are the only ones keeping track of deaths and illnesses in nurses and health care workers; what a thing to say in this country, that we are the only ones who care enough to do that research, to let people know how many of us are dying,” Ross, of NNU said.

“That shouldn’t be our job alone,” she added.