Coronavirus Outbreak: Nurses, healthcare workers concerned about their safety as COVID-19 cases rise

OAKLAND, Calif. (KGO) -- Union nurses at hospitals up and down California rallied today to demand more and better protective gear as they care for rising numbers of coronavirus patients.

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At Alta Bates Summit Medical Center in Oakland, members of the California Nurses Association changed, "keep us safe" during a demonstration accusing the CDC and hospitals of lowering safety protocols - making them more vulnerable.

"We are protesting the ineffective employer and government response to COVID-19 and we demand protection now," said Paula Lynn, an oncology nurse at Alta Bates.

She and other nurses are upset that the Centers for Disease Control is loosening some protective standards for healthcare workers in hospitals.

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They're especially concerned about a new rule allowing workers to wear regular surgical masks to block spread of the virus, instead of the more effective N-95 mask.

"These are completely ineffective, they won't work and what will happen is that more and more people will contract the virus," according to Bonnie Castillo, the executive director of the California Nurses Association.

Nurse Charlene Allen brought her own N-95 from home Wednesday.

We ask her, "When you were told a regular surgical mask would do the job instead of that, what did you think?"

She responded, "I didn't believe it but I use what they give me."

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However, the association representing California hospitals says CDC and hospitals are trying to work around a shortage of proper masks, and the science supports them.

"Their demands run counter to everything that the centers for disease control and other scientists are telling us about this virus spread," says Carmela Coyle, President and CEO of the California Hospital Association.

The union also charges that some hospitals are urging nurses who have been exposed to coronavirus but show no symptoms continue to work. The California Hospital Association says that is allowed as long as proper protective and hygiene protocols are followed.

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