Open up the state now? N.J. nurses are ‘horrified’ by the idea. - Health Professionals & Allied Employees

Open up the state now? N.J. nurses are ‘horrified’ by the idea.

Taken from

May 7, 2020

Guest Columnist: President Debbie White

There is a cry going out across the nation to end the lockdown. We see armed protests in some states to “end the quarantine and open the country.” In New Jersey, we watch angry people attacking the governor as he speaks at his daily press conference about the COVID-19 pandemic and his conviction that we need to continue to shelter in place.

My question is, what would a nurse or other frontline healthcare worker say to the rush to reopen the state? I am sure, like me, they are horrified.

The initial reason for the shelter in place order was to slow transmission so as not to overwhelm our healthcare system. But our system was still overwhelmed. New Jersey has been one of the hardest-hit states in the nation.

Nurses and other healthcare providers have been living on the front lines of this war for almost two months, many without proper protections. Some can’t sleep, some have nightmares. All are anxious about getting sick themselves or bringing this awful disease home to their families. Watching so much suffering and death will have a lasting impact emotionally.

Physically, the impact is just as dire. Workloads are enormous and hours are long. Our frontline caregivers have had inadequate protections and are getting sick or they are watching their co-workers get sick. Some have died. Caregivers who become sick are well-aware that they’ve been exposed at work but may not know when or by whom. And at this late date, to still be dealing with scarce respiratory protections, lack of gowns, head coverings, shoe coverings, face shields, and gloves is downright criminal.

New Jersey is reporting a staggering 131,000-plus COVID-19 case and at least 8,549 deaths as a result of the disease outbreak. Those are sobering numbers. The tragedy is compounded by the fact that our healthcare workers, the people at the frontline of this pandemic, are also its most preventable casualties of this outbreak. Thousands of healthcare workers have been affected.

If New Jersey healthcare worker case levels are in any way similar to states that disclose their data — like California, with 11%, and Ohio with 16% — then at least 14,000 to 21,000 New Jersey healthcare workers have already been sickened with COVID-19. Sadly, no one seems to be reporting healthcare exposure in New Jersey.

We seem not to have learned our lessons from the first wave in this global pandemic. Here are some important guideposts for the future:

  • We are unable to do proper contact tracing in our healthcare systems so what makes us think we can do this on a grander state-wide scale?
  • We don’t have enough personal protective equipment (PPE) for healthcare systems so how can we have enough PPE to protect the public?
  • We don’t have enough testing systems for the vast majority of the residents of New Jersey so how can we really know who is infected and who is not?

With the lack of testing that still prevails in much of our state, it is not inconceivable that a sizeable portion of our state is infected with the virus. Ending the lockdown without proper systems in place to test, contact-trace and protect New Jersey residents is not responsible.

Pandemic planning has been considered within professional healthcare Emergency Risk Management for decades, from the HIV crisis, through the H1N1 and other flu epidemics, and, most recently, in response to the Ebola crisis in 2014. Yet the COVID-19 pandemic struck us by surprise, with much of the pandemic emergency response infrastructure found to be severely lacking.

At Health Professional and Allied Employees, we believe that one of the first ways to begin to understand transmission and to institute contact tracing is to get accurate data on healthcare worker exposure and COVID illness. HPAE is seeking legislation to mandate that healthcare facilities report data on COVID-19 exposure, test-results, hospitalizations, and deaths of healthcare workers to the New Jersey Department of Health. This data should be regularly publicly reported and ultimately analyzed for a report to the legislature.

Eventually, we will need a full accounting of what went wrong, decisive action to require safe practices and plans and protocols to prevent future tragedies. However, in order to reduce the spread of the disease in the surge that predictive models tell us may be just around the corner, we will need to continue to practice the things we’ve been doing. If not, we will find our system, once again, completely overwhelmed.