164 pairs of shoes placed on the lawn of the Capitol, representing nurses who died from coronavirus

Nurses came together in the nation’s capital Tuesday to hold a vigil for colleagues who have died from the coronavirus. 164 pairs of nurses’ shoes were placed on the lawn of the Capitol – one for every nurse who has died while working in the fight against COVID-19.

In an interview with CBSN on Tuesday, National Nurses United (NNU) President Jean Ross said many people have called nurses “heroes” during the pandemic, and said, “Your heroes should not be dispensable. We’re not expendable.”

“We are getting sick. We are dying along with other healthcare workers. There are things our government can do. This is critical,” she said.

Nurses with NNU, a nationwide union of registered nurses, not only gathered at the Capitol to remember lives lost, but also to demand action. The group is demanding the Senate pass the HEROES Act, which would provide much needed personal protective equipment (PPE) and regulatory protections for frontline health care workers, according to a press release from NNU. 

The $3 trillion HEROES Act would provide economic assistance to working families and state, local and tribal governments. It would also ensure the increased production and delivery of PPE and other medical supplies, NNU said.

Ross said these two action items are critical. “Our nurses tell us they are working under horrible conditions,” Ross said. She said hospitals are experiencing short staffing, lack of equipment and gowns, and some are even “begging and borrowing” from other institutions and buildings. The conditions should not be occurring, and they make hospitals less safe during the pandemic, Ross said.

NNU said the HEROES Act also establishes the role of a Medical Supplies Response Coordinator, who would coordinate the federal government’s efforts related to the supply and distribution of critical medical supplies and equipment.

The vigil at the Capitol was not the first demonstration lead by NNU this year. In April, nurses in six states held protests at 15 hospitals against what they said was “a lack of preparedness” by HCA Healthcare, a major hospital chain in the United States.

NNU also held a protest in front of the White House, where nurses held photos and read the names of fellow registered nurses and other health care workers who have become infected or died from COVID-19 while at work.

In May, NNU organized another massive protest at hospitals across the country. At the time, 60 nurses had died of COVID-19 in the U.S. In about two and a half months, that number has more than doubled. 

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