Nurses suspended for refusing to work without coronavirus protection

Nurses treating COVID-19 cases were instructed to use paper surgical masks.

Various N95 respiration masks at a laboratory of 3M, that has been contracted by the U.S. government to produce extra marks in response to the country's novel coronavirus outbreak, in Maplewood, Minnesota, U.S. March 4, 2020. Picture taken March 4, 2020 (photo credit: REUTERS/NICHOLAS PFOSI)
Various N95 respiration masks at a laboratory of 3M, that has been contracted by the U.S. government to produce extra marks in response to the country's novel coronavirus outbreak, in Maplewood, Minnesota, U.S. March 4, 2020. Picture taken March 4, 2020
(photo credit: REUTERS/NICHOLAS PFOSI)
Some ten nurses at Providence St. John's Medical Center in Santa Monica, southern California were suspended after refusing to work at a coronavirus unit without protective gear, The Los Angeles Times reported.

According to the LA Times, the nurses refused to work at the unit if not provided with N95 masks for personal protection from the virus, while caring for patients suffering from COVID-19.

Jack Cline, who was among the ten suspended, reportedly said the nurses were "willing to reuse the same mask all day long and cover it up with a surgical mask, just issue us one mask a shift." According to Cline, "That's all what we're asking for."

Three of the nurses reportedly demanded protective gear on Friday, having found out a co-worker had tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. The hospital then suspended the three. According to a source cited by the Times as having spoken off the record, nurses treating suspected and confirmed cases of the disease were instructed to wear paper surgical masks in most cases.

Demanding N95 masks, which offer protection significantly better than that of paper masks, Cline and colleagues were ordered by the facility to return to their duties under the threat of being reported to the California Board of Registered Nursing, responsible for licensing. Other nurses who had made similar demands were also suspended by the hospital.

While the hospital refused to cite the suspensions, citing labor and privacy laws, according to the Times, it issued a statement expressing gratitude for the "heroic work our nurses perform each day and will not let the actions of a few diminish the appreciation we have for all our nurses and their commitment to our community." 

The hospital added that "Saint John cherishes its nurses and is taking precautions sanctioned by leading world, national, state and local health agencies to ensure their safety." According to Saint John Medical Center, the protocols used in the facility are "the same protocols followed by our 51 sister hospitals as well as major academic medical centers across the nation and in our service area."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has previously recommended all providers wear N95 face masks, later loosening the guidelines, reportedly in order to preserve limited supplies on a nationwide level.

The Providence health system announced Wednesday they would begin disinfecting N95 masks to make them reusable . The protocol was reportedly authorized by the FDA. The hospital refused to disclose the number of staff members who had tested positive for the virus.

"I’ve been a nurse for 25 years; I don’t need the CDC to tell me when I need an N95," Cline told the LA Times. "When I have a patient coughing directly in my face," said Cline, "I’m not going into that room unless they provide me with one."