‘We still need it’: Fil-Am led nurses group in US fight to keep facemask on

ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 21 2021 08:29 PM | Updated as of May 21 2021 09:32 PM

MANILA - The National Nurses United (NNU) led by its Filipino-American president, has urged the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to revoke its earlier decision to allow vaccinated people to go to most places without the need to wear a facemask.

NNU president Zenie Cortez said the US is still in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic and taking out one of the precautionary measures against the spread of virus could lead to a spike in the number of cases.

“Removing the mask guidance in one of our precautionary measures will only add up to more COVID cases. Of course, they said that if you’re fully vaccinated you can do that. But how can we tell who has been fully vaccinated from someone who has gotten the first vaccine or from someone who has not been vaccinated at all,” Cortez said.

In the pilot webisode of Usapang Fil-Am of PinoyLife Media on Thursday (Friday, Manila time) that tackled the plight of nurses a year into the pandemic, Cortez said there is no mechanism in place to police the measure.

“So we have been asking them to please change their stand on the mask because we still need it. The reason why our numbers went down a little bit from perhaps not as high from last year or a few months ago is because we’ve been following all the measures that are in place,” she said.

Cortez also spoke about the challenges that the health sector in the US, particularly of Filipino nurses, at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It was really heartbreaking at the beginning of the pandemic because we didn’t have the adequate personal protective equipment that we needed in order to take care of our patients safely,” she said.

She said many nurses, including Filipinos, have passed away after contracting the virus. The group relied on obituaries and publications to keep track of the number of nurses who have died from COVID-19.

“What we found out is that there were over 400 nurses to date that have died of COVID and out of those 400, we were only able to determine the ethnicity of 370 of them. Out of 400, 88 of them were Filipinos, and 44 of which were from here in California. We know this is an undercount because the hospitals were not required to report deaths of nurses and healthcare workers,” she said.

She said many Filipinos worked in areas where COVID patients were being cared for like in the hospitals’ intensive care units.

“These are the critical areas and a lot of our kababayans work in those areas and so we were the hardest hit,” she said.

Many Filipino nurses also go beyond their shift due to lack of staffing.

“I really admire the resilience of nurses, especially Pinoy nurses because they did not want to leave the patient’s bedside and so they all stayed as much as they could to be with the dying patients. That’s what it was at the beginning of the pandemic when we were losing patients left and right and at the same token, a lot of nurses were dying,” said Cortez.

With no family member allowed to visit and stay with patients, she said nurses would hold the hand of a dying patient. 

“It was not just really taxing, but we were emotionally overburdened as well,” she said.

With the lack of proper equipment at work, nurses, particularly Filipinos who live in a multi-generational household, also worried about bringing the virus home to their families.

“It was really difficult and we fought really hard to make sure the hospital provided us our scrubs that we can take off at the end of the shift; that they provided us a place to shower. Those were the kind of things that we fought for not only for the PPEs, but other provisions as well,” she said.

Fatima Cabillon, a registered nurse at the New York Community Hospital in Brooklyn was not spared by the virus. The virus also claimed her mother’s life on April 26, 2020.

Her mother, Maria Guia Cabillon, was the head ER nurse at the King’s County Hospital in Brooklyn. 

Fatima said that their mother never told them that she was COVID positive.

While her mother was admitted to the hospital, she was also isolating at home after contracting the virus too.

“It was hard because I was isolated we cannot visit her. She cannot talk, she could only text us from time to time because she was really struggling to breathe,” she said.

Like Cortez, Fatima too is against the CDC’s recent decision regarding facemasks.

“I’m fully vaccinated, I’ve seen it all pero still I’m not comfortable taking my mask off. I think CDC should change that. I think they should stop saying na it’s ok not to wear masks,” she said.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said that since the start of the pandemic, the US reported a total of 32,676,954 confirmed cases of COVID-19, including 581,717 deaths.

Globally, WHO said the total number of COVID-19 cases is now 164,523,894. Of the total, 3,412,032 have died.