The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is yet again loosening surgical mask requirements for health care workers due to shortages.
Nurses unions have stressed there is not enough personal protective equipment for frontline health care workers. Zenei Cortez, a registered nurse and president of National Nurses United, said a surgical mask will not keep health care workers protected and is not made the same as an N95 mask, yet health care workers are being encouraged to wear them.
"We are being encouraged to just use surgical masks, but again it doesn't provide us the protection that we need in order to safely take care of our patients or ourselves," Cortez said.
She said nurses are having to go against what they learned in nursing school and use one mask, regardless of what type, for their entire shift, putting their lives on the line.
"It could be an eight-hour shift, it could be a 10-hour shift or a 12-hour shift," Cortez said. "And if we did this prior to the pandemic, we could be disciplined because we are not practicing infection control. But this time, they have — they meaning the hospital industry and our employers — have disregarded infection control protocols and policies."
The National Nurses United surveyed more than 22,000 nurses in the U.S. Eighty-seven percent said they were mandated to reuse single-use PPE, 77 percent said they have never been tested and 76 percent said they don't feel their employer is providing a safe workplace.
Despite this, the White House has repeatedly said there are enough PPE supplies to go around.
"They're very much stocked up; they're in great shape," President Donald Trump said.
But several government agencies say that's not the case, especially now as the U.S. enters peak hurricane season.
"In respond to COVID-19 and other national disasters in 2020, FEMA has met the more difficult task of managing finite medical supplies and equipment," FEMA Administrator Peter Gaynor said. "Rather than managing resources, we are managing shortages."
In response to Newsy's request for comment on the new FDA claims of PPE shortages, the White House doubled down, saying, "President Trump has led the greatest mobilization of the private sector since World War II to deliver critical supplies, including face masks, PPE, and ventilators, to the areas that need it most and saving countless lives."
A senior administration official told Newsy 70 percent of states in the U.S. have on hand a 60-day PPE supply or greater.