What the Nurses’ Protests Tell Us About the Reality of the Pandemic in the United States

White House nurses protest Belatina

The transformation of society during the coronavirus pandemic has been evident to those who yearn for routine, for the supposed freedom of space, and for those who have lost a loved one in the blink of an eye to a still unknown disease.

However, there are those who reflect on other types of changes, such as those that are gestated in the collective unconscious, those that manifest themselves in recurring nightmares or in that silent identity crisis that we are all suffering from — whether we notice it or not.

To give an example: While the president was inciting protests across the country against the state-imposed quarantine — and while we watched in genuine awe as people carried signs saying “I want a haircut” or “Jesus is my mask” — dozens of nurses hung up their gloves for a moment to go out into the streets and exercise, in the same way, their right to protest.

Social networks were populated with images of a group of health care workers in Colorado counter protesting the conservatives who were demanding the “restoration of their freedoms” and the “opening of the economy.”

As one woman shouted “Go to China if you want communism,” the workers remained unmovable, knowing that their scrubs spoke louder than the screams of the protesters.

“The nurses just stood their ground,” Alyson McClaran, a photographer and witness to the event, told Buzzfeed News. “They were very peaceful, and I didn’t hear a single Word come out of the guy’s mouth.”

In other parts of the country, nurses have been dismissed, reprimanded for insubordination and even fired for demanding more protective equipment and improved working conditions, knowing that they are the population most at risk during the pandemic.

According to NBC News, nurses at DMC Sinai-Grace Hospital in Detroit “staged an hours long sit-in at the hospital this month,” and Salah Hadwan, a registered nurse in the emergency department posted a Facebook Live video on April 5 where he said the nurses were eventually asked to leave. 

“We basically were told to leave because we refuse to accept unsafe patient loads,” Hadwan said in the video.

This week, a group of registered nurses gathered outside the White House to pay tribute to their colleagues who died from the coronavirus, and to demand more protective equipment from the government.

According to USA Today, the protest was organized by National Nurses United, the largest union of registered nurses in the country, and featured a dozen nurses wearing masks or bandanas and standing about six feet away from each other.

“Nurses protested today because we need to stop the spread of the virus and to do that, nurses and other health care workers need the optimal personal protective equipment to do their jobs safely,” Deborah Burger, RN, co-president of National Nurses United, said in a statement to USA Today.

“We need Congress and the White House to act now and mandate that the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration issue an emergency temporary standard to protect health care workers and other frontline workers from COVID-19 exposure. It is inexcusable that Congress is debating a new COVID-19 interim package without including a mandatory OSHA standard for health care workers in the bill.”

These displays of national discontent tell a different story than the one the government insists on imposing through its erratic press conferences, and at the same time contrast with the demonstrations of pro-government coalitions that insist on drawing attention to what only a handful of Americans seem to think.

“These two frames will be among the lasting images of the covid-19 pandemic in America, reminding us of the juxtaposition of life and death that plagued our nation in 2020,” Kathleen Parker wrote in her opinion column for The Washington Post. “While protesters play revolutionary in the springtime air, nurses, doctors and medical staff spin the chamber in a game of Russian roulette as they try to heal the sick and comfort the dying.”