Enact Public Health Safeguards and Provide Support and Protection for Health Workers during the Coronavirus Outbreak

Federal, state, & local government officials and health systems

Doctors for America asks our physician and medical trainee colleagues, those in other health professions, organizations advocating for patients and communities, and our public health and science communities to join in our call for public health safeguards and protection of health workers.

Join our efforts to respond effectively to COVID-19 by signing on to this letter. Read the open letter via the DFA website.

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To: Federal, state, & local government officials and health systems
From: [Your Name]

1. Enact shelter-in-place nationwide through federal and/or state-level action.

We have already missed critical windows for action, but future scenarios of disease spread, illness, death, health system stress, and societal trauma can still be mitigated if our leaders enact public health measures now. An effective response to this unprecedented pandemic cannot occur without enacting stringent public health mandates now to reduce the number of patients needing care. Voluntary social distancing guidance is inadequate, and lockdowns reacting to disease flare-ups are not effective. A nationwide shelter-in-place order, maintained as long as is necessary to control the outbreak, identify and treat patients who need care, and protect the public’s health, is the best way to limit the number of people who are infected.

Thus, shelter-in-place should be implemented nationwide through federal and/or state-level action, and resources must be freed to pursue contact tracing and local containment once hotspots are identified. These shelter-in-place mandates should be sensitive to legitimate concerns regarding financial stressors, address basic needs of the communities affected, and avoid enforcement measures that would promote over-policing.

2. Ensure access to Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) & clear protocols on PPE use.

As an organization advocating for the health of our patients and communities, empowering physicians and other health professionals to be effective health advocates, Doctors for America (DFA) is also concerned about the health and safety of all health workers involved in managing the COVID-19 pandemic. Our teams include everyone - physicians, nurses, students, technicians, volunteers, environmental and food services workers, and more - working in hospitals, emergency rooms, outpatient clinics, nursing homes, long-term care and community-health centers, correctional facilities, and other locations. Many health workers in the US continue to have inadequate access to appropriate PPE (masks, respirators, gowns, gloves, face shields, and more).

We must protect and support health workers through the COVID-19 outbreak, and beyond, to ensure that patients have people to care for them. The US government must more effectively access and disperse National Strategic Stockpile supplies and contract with manufacturing directly via the Defense Protection Act to ensure that all workers are able to use PPE. Importantly, the US should not at this time of crisis loosen hospital safety rules and protections for essential health workers, forcing health workers to provide or feel pressure to provide care without adequately protecting and caring for themselves.

3. Ensure that our health workers will continue to be healthy and available to take care of our patients and communities.

In addition to immediate infection control through public health action and health care workforce protection, we call for measures to:

* Set minimum standards for health worker shift length, rest, and whistleblower protections, including alternative sleeping quarters for those who may need to isolate themselves (to protect their families) and a health worker safety hotline to report unsafe conditions.
* Make paid sick leave available to all health workers regardless of employment status.
* Prioritize health worker access to COVID-19 testing and treatment to keep health care workers providing care to those who need it.
* Provide safe child care options for health workers who may need them.
* Provide freely-accessible, consequence-free mental health services to health workers.
* Ensure that medical licensing and liability regulations are relaxed to allow health workers to provide care for patients wherever those patients might need them.
* Ensure that health workers-in-training - residents, fellows, medical & nursing students, and volunteers - receive protections similar to those of other health workers, especially from exploitative working conditions.