EIR Daily Alert Service, FRIDAY, March 13, 2020
FRIDAY, MARCH 13, 2020
Volume 7, Number 52
EIR Daily Alert Service
P.O. Box 17390, Washington, DC 20041-0390
- Reality Is Knocking at the Door: What Can Be Done, And What Should Not Be Done
- Trump Lays Out New Policies for Coronavirus
- Coronavirus: Dramatic Measures Required
- Countering Lies and Stupidity Regarding Coronavirus Pandemic
- Defender-Europe Exercise Has Been Scaled Back
- U.S. Won’t Be Sending Ground Troops to Idlib, Syria
- ‘Greenback’ Policy is Needed, But the Fed Erupts in Helicopter Money Instead
- Chinese Labs Make Breakthrough in COVID-19 Test Kits, With Results in 15 Minutes
- N95 Masks in Short Supply, Because 2009 Warnings Unheeded: Activate Defense Production Act!
March 12 (EIRNS)—What are people experiencing in the world now? An Italian sees a spreading virus shutting down schools and businesses, causing near-riots at grocery stores, and about which it is difficult to have a sense of when it will end. An American with some savings for retirement has witnessed, over the last two weeks, a loss of 25 to 30% of the value of their stocks only two months after mourning the death of a family member from opioids. A Kenyan, confronting the worst locust swarms in 70 years, sees some efforts at pest control, but the numbers of pests continues to increase, as a new generation is hatching: “Doesn’t the world care?” A Chinese nurse, exhausted from the efforts involved in providing care in Wuhan, is spending two weeks in isolation at home in Nanjing, hears Westerners on television blaming China for not doing enough to stop the virus and wonders whether peaceful, honest relations are possible.
We are living in a Dark Age, both in the sense of the physical conditions confronting us, and in the cultural outlook that has brought about those conditions and resists efforts to change them. From the European Dark Age sprang the Renaissance, and from today’s calamities can be forged a new paradigm of economics and society.
How can this be done? And what should not be done?
First, the world does not need more money. The big Wall Street and London-centered banks must not be bailed out; they must be broken apart. Any bailouts would, like last time, be passed along to speculative units, client hedge funds, investment banking units, etc., and would never reach the real economy. Restoring the Glass-Steagall Act will put these speculative units out in the cold while protecting the large lending bank units from themselves—they will have to sell off the speculative units quickly, stop lending to them, and let them fail. Retirement funds will have that short time to get out of these speculative investments.
Interest rates should not be lowered further; they should be raised, and effectively split into two tiers, with lower rates for lending to productive investments in the physical economy. Glass-Steagall will almost immediately cause interest rates for short-term speculative lending to rise sharply. The desperate hedge funds trying to borrow hundreds of billions every morning from the New York Fed must be allowed to go dry.
Most important, the President and Congress must cooperate to create a capital budget for new infrastructure construction: concentrating initially on building new hospitals, laboratories and other public health facilities, bringing more high-tech companies into producing stockpiles of medical devices and protective equipment, and building the additional electricity capacity and clean water supplies this expanded hospital/public health/sanitation system needs. There is plenty of other new infrastructure needed as well. Building such new economic infrastructure can be a healthy activity, especially when done in the fresh air of the spring and summer.
New Federal bonds—construction bonds—have to be issued for this capital budget, whether by an emergency nationalization of the Federal Reserve, or, more quickly, simply by creating a Reconstruction Finance Corporation (RFC) backed by the Treasury. These bonds should bear interest rates higher than current Treasury long-term rates, and include small denominations. This will attract investment by the public, prevent further collapse of Treasury interest rates, and encourage productive bank loans by having the RFC participate in them.
Companies don’t need more money; they need new demand for production and construction. Without that, lots of small business loans won’t be used.
Some Federal taxes should be raised, not lowered: capital gains taxes, for example. The 1935-75 period of solid growth in U.S. labor productivity, real wages, and income equality, along with rapid technological advances and formation of new industries, was accomplished with Federal tax rates of nearly all types far higher than they are today, and with bank lending rates in the range of 3-6%.
Lyndon LaRouche’s Four Laws are the needed framework for the physical economic recovery that will support the future ensured survival of the human species. Take the opportunity to uplift people in need of solutions, by presenting a future they can look forward to with true hope!
U.S. POLITICAL AND ECONOMIC
March 12 (EIRNS)—President Trump addressed the United States people in a speech made at 9 p.m. eastern on Wednesday night. Trump offered no bailouts to Wall Street, and said nothing about the Fed interest rates—much to the chagrin of Wall Street, as seen in the further collapse of the markets on Thursday. Specific measures taken by Trump include the following:
• After contrasting the low number of (confirmed) cases of COVID-19 in the United States with the significantly higher level in Europe, Trump announced that as of midnight on Friday, foreign nationals (with some exceptions) who have been within the Schengen Area within the last 14 days will be denied entry to the United States.
• The travel restrictions regarding China and South Korea will be re-assessed, and possibly lifted.
• Insurers will not charge co-pays for coronavirus testing, and coronavirus treatments will be covered by all insurance plans. (Testing has no co-pay, but that is not the case for treatment.)
• A Presidential Memorandum authorizes he Secretary of Health and Human Services has been given authority with respect to respirators—HHS has put out an order for 500 million N95 masks to encourage production and let manufacturers know that they’re guaranteed a large order.
• A call to Congress to increase by $50 billion the funding of the Small Business Administration. Given the economic slowdown that will occur as control measures are put in place to reduce the spread of the virus, low demand will hurt businesses, and they may not be able to take advantage of loans.
• Some tax deadlines may be extended, without penalties or interest.
• A call to Congress for a reduction of payroll tax.
• A call for emergency action to provide financial relief to workers who are ill, quarantined, or caring for others. “To ensure that working Americans impacted by the virus can stay home without fear of financial hardship, I will soon be taking emergency action, which is unprecedented, to provide financial relief. This will be targeted for workers who are ill, quarantined, or caring for others due to coronavirus. I will be asking Congress to take legislative action to extend this relief.”
• Urging nursing homes to suspend any non-medical visits
• Wash your hands!
During a Thursday morning White House joint press conference with the Prime Minister of Ireland—who informed the reporters present about Ireland’s prohibitions on large public gatherings—Trump was asked whether he was going to declare a national emergency. He replied that he is considering taking that step, but was not yet prepared to do so. Another question was about “travel restrictions within the United States, such as to Washington State or California.” Trump replied: “Is it a possibility? Yes…. You see what they’re doing now in New Rochelle [in New York State], which is good, frankly. It’s the right thing, but it’s not enforced.”
March 12 (EIRNS)—China’s success in beating back the coronavirus has depended on aggressive measures of research, testing, hospital construction, relocation of medical workers, supply production, and such social measures as isolation, quarantine, requiring masks, and the use of smartphone apps to indicate health risks when entering public buildings or public transport.
Some of the steps announced by President Donald Trump—such as eliminating co-pays for coronavirus testing and an initiative to provide financial help to those not working in order to avoid the disease or to care for others suffering from it—are helpful, but they do not yet go nearly far enough. The vicious anti-China rhetoric of such people as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo prevents the United States from learning from China’s success.
In contrast to Pompeo, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, in a speech he gave on March 11, praised China’s response: “China—200,000 tests per day…. They were so aggressive on testing that they actually found the people who tested positive, isolated them, and then ran down the track of who those people may have contacted. Massive testing … [In the United States,] we’ve done 5,000 tests to date. So, our testing is nowhere near [what] it needs to be. We saw China … last year—you saw the case coming. Why did it take so long for this country to get a testing protocol done?” He announced that New York State would take independent initiatives to contract with private laboratories to increase testing. At the beginning of the week, Cuomo announced that the state was producing its own hand sanitizer—100,000 gallons (half a million liters) per week. (He didn’t announce that it was produced by prisoners working for less than $1/hour.)
Such measures, taken on a much more massive and national scale, could see the redevelopment of domestic production chains for essential medicines and healthcare supplies. Social measures, such as mandatory paid sick leave, are required. It should be announced that coronavirus testing for the uninsured will be provided on a national basis. The test kits themselves be produced?
Could the kinds of social measures taken in China—including the use of smartphone apps to demonstrate a person’s risk status before being allowed on public transport—be implemented in the United States, Europe, or South America? What will the Chinese system with other characteristics look like?
March 12 (EIRNS)—Many of the things said about the coronavirus pandemic are incorrect. Here are responses to several of the foolish concepts that are commonly expressed:
• But the flu kills more people every year! The coronavirus is new. Its spread has only begun. In the first weeks of the Spanish Flu of 1918, pundits could have said the same thing—at that point, it had killed fewer people than the seasonal flu. The coronavirus is approximately ten times more lethal than the seasonal flu.
• We just need to close our borders. At this point, the coronavirus is inside the United States. International travel restrictions can be sensible, but not in a qualitatively different way than internal travel restrictions. Closing international borders without instituting social distancing, shutting down mass transit, closing schools, etc., is ineffective.
• China’s cover-up at the beginning of the outbreak now threatens the world. Whatever missteps may have been made in the first couple of weeks (and hindsight is always 20/20), reports of unusual pneumonia in late December led to rapid action: On Dec. 30, 2019 Wuhan began actively looking for additional cases, based on symptomatology. The WHO was notified the next day. On Jan. 1, 2020 the Wuhan seafood market was closed. Only one week later, on Jan. 7, 2020 the virus was identified. On Jan. 12, its genetic sequence was shared with the world. On Jan. 13, test kits became available. On Jan. 23, Wuhan was shut down. On Jan. 24, an additional 15 cities were shut down. Travel and isolation policies were adopted for domestic travel. These measures were successful! By the time the WHO declared a “public health emergency of international concern” on Jan. 30, the number of new cases in Hubei had already reached its peak, and was beginning to decline.
• I’m young, so I don’t have to worry. Think about others. Although young people may be only mildly affected, or even asymptomatic, that does mean that they cannot spread the disease.
• We can’t do anything about it, anyhow. Let’s just “take it on the chin.” China’s successful, aggressive public health measures have turned the tide within that nation. Fewer than a dozen people die per day in Hubei, and only a handful in the rest of China. For example, the Jing-Jin-Ji region of Beijing, Tianjin and Hebei has a total population of over 100 million, and the total number of confirmed cases is below 1,000, fewer than in the United States, and less than half the number of confirmed cases in Spain, with a population of under 50 million. These figures show that public health measures can be successful when aggressively implemented. Of the 80,000 known cases in China, there have been 3,000 deaths, 63,000 recoveries, and 14,000 ongoing cases.
• I might as well just catch it now to get it over with. The better job we do controlling the spread of the virus, the longer we have to develop cures and prevention. This will take months, but we can succeed, with a massive mobilization for the needed medical and social infrastructure.
STRATEGIC WAR DANGER
March 12 (EIRNS)—The Defender-Europe 2020 exercise has not been canceled due to the spread of the coronavirus in Europe, but it has now been “scaled back.” U.S. European Command announced yesterday that it is cutting back its plans for this very large-scale exercise. “After careful review of the ongoing Defender-Europe 2020 exercise activities and in light of the current coronavirus outbreak, we will modify the exercise by reducing the number of U.S. participants,” EUCOM officials said in a press release, reported Military Times. “Activities associated with the exercise will be adjusted accordingly and we’ll work closely with Allies and partners to meet our highest priority training objectives.”
No details of the cutbacks have so far been released but “As we work through the arrangements with our Allies and partners, we’ll provide additional updates,” the release said.
March 12 (EIRNS)—U.S. National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien told the Heritage Foundation yesterday that the United States will not send ground troops to Syria’s Idlib province on behalf of Turkey. “That’s a very difficult situation. Some folks suggested that we stop the fighting, but we are not going to drop the 101st [Airborne Division] in the middle of Russian, Syrian, Iranian, al-Qaeda, Turkish [and]… Syrian defense forces,” O’Brien said, reported Sputnik International. “That’s not something we are going to commit American troops to at this point.”
March 12 (EIRNS)—About midday today, authorities at the Treasury and Federal Reserve, now in constant crisis communication, realized that the Treasury’s auction of 30-year bonds was failing. Either the primary dealer banks were not going to buy the issue, or the interest rate was going to shoot skyward. The last time this failure to sell long-term U.S. government securities occurred, to our knowledge, was in 1861 just after the start of the Civil War; the event necessitated starting the issuance of Greenback currency by the Treasury.
The Federal Reserve responded today with an avalanche of “liquidity,” provided and promised, to interbank markets, which amounted in effect, to the Fed directly buying and committing to buy $1.5 trillion in Treasury securities of all kinds. The quick pass through banks and hedge funds does not hide the fact that the Fed is effectively buying the securities. That is, it is issuing helicopter money to the Treasury for spending, which the Treasury otherwise would not—in this case could not raise.
This does not only “promise” a great inflation. It exposes today’s almost complete dependence of the U.S. government, in selling its debt instruments, on investment banks, hedge funds and other speculative financial firms which now suddenly find themselves illiquid in a galloping credit crisis, and unable to support the Treasury market. It is a sign of the futility of this Fed helicopter money move, that it accomplished nothing but the day’s 30-year bond sale. The Treasury interest rates remained higher, while the stock market remained far down again—a conjunction which, by the way, is “not supposed to happen.”
Because of the immense bubble of corporate debt built since the 2008 crash, the coronavirus slowdown of economic activity is triggering a credit crisis through the threat of bad debt losses. Loan credit is now getting very difficult for many American corporations to obtain: Not only small companies; and not only shale oil/gas basin operators like Halliburton (a very large company) and many smaller ones; but also, for example, Boeing, which is fully drawing down a large, long-term revolving credit line of $14 billion because it does not think it can borrow otherwise at this point. Many corporations have lost significant part of their market due to suddenly decreased demand for consumer products and services of many kinds. And in the “bankruptcy basins” of oil shale, the decline in demand for oil, due to less economic activity overall, is keeping the price of oil drastically low where it was sent by the Saudi assault on oil prices.
Layoffs are growing in service industries and among port and longshore employees, but are not large scale as yet. It is worth noting that average real weekly wages rose unusually by 0.5% in February (by the CPI-U undercount of inflation, but nonetheless, some income strength for the labor force).
The lack of credit quickly makes BBB-rated (just-above-junk) companies into “fallen angels” whose debt becomes junk, and makes “zombie companies” (those without enough operating net income even to pay interest on their debts) into bankrupts.
In banking, American Banker magazine March 11 warns of bad-debt problems for the oil field-servicing lenders; they didn’t name any Wall Street giants yet, but rather mid-size regional banks like Comerica, Cadence Bancorp and other Texas banks. Today, the magazine reported that the Fed announced it would add another $510 billion in liquidity lending during the remainder of March and to April 9, and expected to expand its balance sheet by a comparable amount during that period. So, as much effective quantitative easing in the next three weeks, as in the past six months.
On March 12, the New York Federal Reserve Bank’s limit on the one-day repurchase loan operation was raised for the second time this week, now to $175 billion. With three simultaneous repo operations (the new one is 25-days’ term), the demand was $270 billion, of which the Fed loaned $200 billion. This means the Fed substituted for a full 20% of the interbank lending market March 12, which was missing, and another 5-6% of that market was demanded by remained missing. This is because investment banks and hedge funds speculating in interest-rate derivatives and corporate debt indexes are losing their bets, and reverse leverage—betting with debt and losing—is making their losses worse. So the biggest banks will not lend them 24-hour money and they must get it from the Fed.
And this was all before the Fed launched its helicopter money at midday.
Even financial economists now recognize that the U.S. non-financial corporate debt bubble is likely to blow up; cf. “analysis” articles in the Washington Post both March 10 and 11. It is variously estimated at from $11 trillion to $16 trillion in size depending on what categories of debt are included; the “junk debt” part of it, about $4 trillion, is easily bigger than the subprime mortgage bubble which melted down in 2007-08.
Stock market gyrations of thousands of points—and more often downward—are a sidelight of this exacerbated credit crisis, which is actually capable of devastating the U.S. economy again as it did in 2008-10.
Stock “guru” Jim Cramer, whose infamous on-air tantrum in 2007 about “the Fed doesn’t get it!” seemed to lead to huge Fed liquidity loans direct to Wall Street banks, staged another, almost identical tantrum on CNBC this morning. He then took a call from an unidentified caller (Larry Kudlow perhaps, who was Cramer’s CNBC colleague much longer than Trump’s economic advisor); and then said he was now “confident” something big was going to be done: “I think they are debating the notion about whether they should have a trust fund … also debating the notion right now about whether the Federal Reserve should be able to guarantee credit lines. The Treasury trust fund would indeed, perhaps, take advantage of the lower rates and make it so that people
feel their credit lines would be backed up. I believe that some of these plans that I mentioned are being debated right now.”
March 12 (EIRNS)—On Feb. 15, CGTN announced that China’s state key Laboratory of Respiratory Diseases had developed a COVID-19 detection kit that delivers results in 15 minutes, requiring only one drop of blood from the patient.
When some clinically-diagnosed patients whose nucleic acid tests showed negative for the virus, they were retested with the new kit, and most of the results showed positive for IgM antibodies. On a later date, March 4, a North Carolina company, BioMedomics, reported the same 15-minute results with one of its test kits.
Whatever may be the case, we can all be happy that such a test has been developed and used in China, which will hopefully be used here and around the world, sooner rather than later.
March 12 (EIRNS)—A shortage of N95 respirator masks has raised alarm bells among healthcare workers and others dealing with coronavirus patients. According to McClatchy news service, even President Donald Trump admitted yesterday that “unfortunately, at present, public health experts anticipate shortages in the supply of personal respiratory devices available for use by healthcare workers in mitigating further transmission.” He ordered Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar “to take all appropriate and necessary steps” to increase emergency availability.
Facing a shortage of N95 masks, Washington State, for example, has turned to the Strategic National Stockpile, where drugs and medical supplies are stored, to request 233,000 respirators. An official with the National Stockpile told McClatchy that the cache currently holds roughly 13 million N95 respirators and 30 million surgical masks, along with other personal protective equipment for deployment into areas in need.
However, McClatchy elaborated, Stockpile officials are urging states to first tap their own supplies, including some respirators that have exceeded their shelf lives.
Nota bene: The Washington Post reported today, that in mid-2009, in response to the H1N1 influenza pandemic, the Strategic National Stockpile deployed more than 85 million N95 respirators. At that point, the International Safety Equipment Association, the trade group representing manufacturers of personal protective equipment, called for “urgent action” to restock the N95 masks, warning that in the event of another pandemic, there would be “significant shortages.”
Nothing was done, however. Due to budgetary constraints, officials in charge of the Stockpile decided the priority should be on lifesaving drugs and equipment for both diseases and natural disasters.
Absent activation of the Defense Production Act, austerity and bean counting appear to have prevailed. For example, McClatchy reports, administrators of the Strategic Stockpile say they will carefully evaluate future requests from states, “to ensure that health care workers—and not others—are the true recipients of the supplies.” According to Stockpile officials, HHS has recently committed to the purchase of 500 million additional N95 masks so as to encourage manufacturers to ramp up production, but now with the guarantee that they will not be left with excess supplies. The Trump Administration is reportedly pushing Democrats and Republicans to approve emergency legislation that will protect mask manufacturers from lawsuits should their products fail to protect from infection from COVID-19.
Reach us at email@example.com or call 1-571-293-0935
March 11 (EIRNS)—President Donald Trump spoke for ten minutes tonight. All travel from Europe (other than the U.K.) is restricted as of Friday, March 13, 11:59 EDT, for 30 days. The European Union failed to take the immediate measures we did in closing travel with China, and they are paying the consequences. As China and South Korea recover, there will be consideration of lifting restrictions. Nursing homes are encouraged to suspend all non-medically necessary visits. Emergency actions are in the works to provide relief to those who must stay home when ill, or forced off the job. The Small Business Administration will be given $50 billion (pending Congressional approval) for SMEs affected. SBE tax-payment deferrals and payroll tax relief will be proposed to Congress. “This is not a financial crisis,” he said. Our banking system “incredibly strong.”
Bank of England Panics, Wall Street Explodes: Will Trump Listen to the Wise Words of Lyndon LaRouche?
March 11 (EIRNS)—President Donald Trump addressed the nation Wednesday night, after this report was closed out. Whether or not he chose to use the power of the Presidency, as designed by America’s Founding Fathers, and as embedded in the post-World War II Defense Production Act, to bypass the corrupt and impotent Congress to declare a national emergency, to unleash a massive infrastructure and industrial expansion policy, may determine the fate of the nation and the world. The takedown of the public health system over the past 50 years, both in the U.S. and in Europe, is now standing naked before world, as the West’s leading nations, including Germany, Italy, France, and the United States, have no capacity to meet the extraordinary health requirements of what has, finally, been declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization.
And it is also now abundantly clear to all but the blind, that the entire industrial capacity—especially the basic infrastructure which sustains that capacity—is so decrepit, that even rebuilding the industrial capacity will take mammoth government interventions, on the scale with which Franklin Roosevelt intervened in 1933. To start, the panicked collapse of the “market”—the Dow was down over 5% today, 20% for the week—can only be resolved in one way—the immediate restoration of Glass-Steagall, ending the speculative hysteria. Then, the President must assert his powers as President to exonerate Lyndon LaRouche, so that the full power of his “Four Laws” can be fully implemented.
With that, the leaders of the great nations of the world—necessarily including Russia, China, India, and the United States—must come together to implement a new Bretton Woods system based upon these Four Laws, freeing the entire world from the bankrupt British imperial system of monetarism governed by Wall Street and the City of London.
Helga Zepp-LaRouche today called on President Trump and NATO to end the insanity of the Europe-Defender 2020 exercises—the largest NATO exercises since the Cold War, openly moving huge numbers of NATO troops and military equipment to the Russian border. Besides the insanity from a strategic standpoint—threatening war between the world’s two largest nuclear-armed powers—it is equally insane to have huge numbers of soldiers moving across Europe as the coronavirus threatens mass death if not contained.
It is a moment of historic consequence. To our advantage as human beings, the population increasingly recognizes that the “rules that be” no longer hold. Many are looking back, asking, “Who has been telling the truth all these years, while the governments and the media and Wall Street lied?” If the institutional leaders continue to be blind to the need for revolutionary change, for a return to “American System” measures of directed credit, and of allowing President Trump to carry out his intention to restore friendly relations with Russia and China, then we must mobilize the citizenry to demand precisely that policy.
U.S. POLITICAL AND ECONOMIC
March 11 (EIRNS)—As the global number of coronavirus cases reached 124,663 today, World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus declared that the COVID-19 epidemic can now accurately be defined as a pandemic. He documented the evolution of the novel coronavirus over the past two weeks, pointing to the 13-fold increase of cases outside of China, and the tripling in the number of countries affected. In the days and weeks ahead, he said, he expected to see the number of cases, the number of deaths, and the number of affected countries to “climb even higher.”
WHO has made its assessment after monitoring the outbreak around the clock, and becoming deeply concerned “both by the alarming levels of spread and severity, and by the alarming levels of inaction,” he said. Pandemic “is not a word to use lightly or carelessly,” Dr. Tedros cautioned again. “It is a word that, if misused, can cause unreasonable fear, or unjustified acceptance that the fight is over, leading to unnecessary suffering and death.”
“We’re in this together, to do the right things with calm and protect the citizens of the world. It’s doable.”
He pointed out that the world has never before seen a pandemic sparked by a coronavirus.
“And we have never before seen a pandemic that can be controlled, at the same time.” And, he underscored, this is not just a public health crisis, but one that “will touch every sector, so every sector and every individual must be involved in the fight.” He emphasized that he has urged countries to take a “whole-of-government, whole-of-society approach, built around a comprehensive strategy to prevent infections, save lives, and minimize impact.”
“We cannot say this loudly enough, or clearly enough, or often enough: all countries can still change the course of this pandemic.” Dr. Tedros acknowledged that there are some countries that are struggling with a lack of capacity, with a lack of resources, and some “with a lack of resolve.” We are grateful, he said, “for the measures being taken in Iran, Italy, and the Republic of Korea to slow the virus and control their epidemics. We know that these measures are taking a heavy toll on societies and economies, just as they did in China. WHO’s mandate is public health. But we’re working with many partners across all sectors to mitigate the social and economic consequences of this pandemic.”
March 11 (EIRNS)—Today, the California Nurses Association (CNA), the National Nurses Organizing Committee (NNOC), and National Nurses United (NNU) are holding a day of action to protest their anger over weakening of guidelines for response to the COVID-19 epidemic, announced the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) yesterday.
According to a press release issued by the three nursing organizations, the CDC’s weakened guidelines include rolling back personal protective equipment (PPE) standards from N95 masks to allow simple surgical masks; not requiring suspected or confirmed COVID-19 patients to be placed in negative-pressure isolation rooms at all times; and weakening protections for healthcare workers collecting diagnostic respiratory specimens.
“These are moves that National Nurses United nurses say will gravely endanger nurses, healthcare workers, patients, and our communities,” an NNU press release warns. The day of action will protest the “ineffective employer and government response to COVID-19 and demand protections now,” and include a warning from Bonnie Castillo, RN and CNA/NNOC and NNU executive director, that “if nurses and healthcare workers aren’t protected, that means patients and the public are not protected.”
The American Federation of Teachers, the Transport Workers Union of America, and about a dozen other unions are also up in arms over the CDC’s revamped guidelines, particularly that which replaces the specialized N95 masks with ordinary surgical masks.
“We are strongly opposed to any measures that fail to provide optimal protection and infection control standards,” union representatives had written in a March 6 letter to CDC officials. The unions are opposed to these changes, they said, because emerging disease like COVID-19 “pose an occupational hazard for workers on the front lines, especially healthcare workers.”
The Washington Post reported that the CDC’s new guidance is due to a shortage of the N95 masks, and the fact that “the supply chain of respirators cannot meet demand and that looser fitting surgical face masks are an acceptable alternative.”
The more commonly worn surgical masks will limit—but not eliminate—the chance of inhaling large, infectious particles circulating near the face. Until March 10, the CDC had recommended that healthcare workers interacting with coronavirus patients or suspected cases wear N95 respirators, along with gowns, gloves, and eye protectors. The N95 filters must be custom-fitted and are more expensive than surgical masks. The bean counters at work.