Brigham and Women’s Hospital has refused to ensure every nurse has an N95 mask even though patients who are not officially COVID-19 patients can be infected with no symptoms
BOSTON, Mass. – The 3,400 registered nurses at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, represented by the Massachusetts Nurses Association, are calling on the hospital to provide to every nurse the N95 masks that are the safest standard for protecting against COVID-19 infection. Nurses are also seeking critical information about who has tested positive at the hospital.
The Brigham and Partners Healthcare have refused to supply every nurse caring for patients with an N95 mask. Any patient – and anyone in contact with patients – may have COVID-19 because the virus can spread without symptoms. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Dr. Robert Redfield told NPR last week that an estimated 25 percent of coronavirus carriers experience no symptoms.
“If nurses on the front lines are not protected, who will be there to care for patients?” said Trish Powers, Brigham OR RN and Chair of the MNA Bargaining Committee at the hospital. “Every Brigham nurse needs the best practice N95 mask protection. Why are we saving these masks if the surge is starting now? If we get sick, we cannot be at the bedside, and our families and communities are at risk.”
After the Kraft family donated 1.2 million N95 masks to Massachusetts, New York and Rhode Island last week, Massachusetts General Hospital President Peter Slavin told the Boston Globe, “Any worry we’ve had about the availability of N95 masks to protect our staff is behind us.”
The hospital has also refused to notify staff if a patient they came into contact with or a colleague tests positive for COVID-19. Gov. Charlie Baker just announced a Contact Tracing Initiative for the state that involves a staff of more than 1,000 people (with Partners in Health as a partner) contacting COVID-19 positive patients in order to trace contacts and communicate with them by phone to alert them to their exposure.
“The Brigham is violating widely accepted public health norms by refusing to disclose this information,” Powers said. “This is critical information that will help our nurses make the right decisions about their health and the safety of their families and communities.”
As of April 3, 154 Brigham employees had tested positive for COVID-19, according to the hospital website (newer data was not available as of April 6). This makes sense because there are many COVID positive, COVID rule out and COVID unknown patients at the hospital and only a subset of staff are getting N95 masks.
Timeline of Brigham and Women’s Hospital Masking Policy
- Prior to 3/25/2020 – Staff were not permitted to wear surgical masks unless caring for COVID-19 positive or COVID-19 rule-out patients
- 3/25/2020 – Staff mandated to wear surgical masks in all patient care areas
- 4/6/2020 – Patients and visitors mandated to wear surgical masks
*At all times N95 masks have not been available to staff unless they are caring for a COVID-19 patient and performing an aerosolizing treatment or swabbing a patient.
Regarding the Asymptomatic Spread of COVID-19
- “It’s somewhere between 25% and 50%,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci during the White House coronavirus briefing on Sunday regarding the percent of people with COVID-19 who show no symptoms.
- A study in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases shows more than 10% of patients become infected from somebody who has the virus but does not yet have symptoms.
- Japanese researchers looked at 634 passengers who tested positive for COVID-19 on the Diamond Princess cruise ship. They found that 17.9% of these passengers were asymptomatic.
- Dr. William Hillmann, associate inpatient physician director at Massachusetts General Hospital, told the Guardian, “A significant proportion of people who are totally asymptomatic are contagious for some portion of time. We just don’t know [for how long] at this point, because we don’t have the kind of testing available to screen for asymptomatic infections.”
- A study of COVID-19 cases in China in the New England Journal of Medicine found that even among patients who required hospital admission for treatment of COVID-19, fewer than half (44%) had fevers at the time of presentation.
- In a research letter published March 27 in American Thoracic Society, researchers found that half of the patients they treated for mild COVID-19 infection still had coronavirus for up to eight days after symptoms disappeared.
Read the MNA letters to Gov. Baker more information at www.massnurses.org/COVID-19.
Founded in 1903, the Massachusetts Nurses Association is the largest union of registered nurses in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Its 23,000 members advance the nursing profession by fostering high standards of nursing practice, promoting the economic and general welfare of nurses in the workplace, projecting a positive and realistic view of nursing, and by lobbying the Legislature and regulatory agencies on health care issues affecting nurses and the public.