As President-elect Joe Biden prepares to take office in two months, he heard Wednesday from a firefighter, nurses and a caregiver who described chronic shortages of protective equipment, tests and contact tracing to combat the coronavirus pandemic.
The virus, combined with rebuilding the economy, is the biggest challenge facing Biden. The online roundtable came as the number of cases nationwide grows rapidly, with more than 11 million cases nationwide and nearly 250,000 deaths so far.
Mary Turner, an intensive-care nurse who is president of Minnesota Nurses Association, began crying as she described holding the hand of a dying patient or caring for a colleague who had fallen ill. She said earlier in the pandemic, nurses were using single-use masks for 10 shifts. While caring for COVID-19 patients since February, Turner said she still hasn’t been tested.
“You’re kidding me,” Biden said during the roundtable from The Queen theater in Wilmington, Delaware.
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President-elect Joe Biden speaks to reporters as he leaves The Queen theater on Nov. 18, 2020, in Wilmington, Del.
The virtual meeting was one in a series that the former vice president held in the past week, to demonstrate his preparation for the presidency, even as President Donald Trump continues to fight election results in court and asked for a partial recount in Wisconsin.
On Friday, Biden met with members of his COVID-19 Advisory Board, including Dr. Vivek Murthy, a former surgeon general; Dr. David Kessler, former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration; and Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith of the Yale School of Medicine.
On Monday, Biden met virtually with corporate and labor leaders to discuss how to safely rebuild the economy. On Tuesday, Biden met with military, intelligence and foreign-affairs experts outside government to hear about the biggest national security challenges facing the country, despite the Trump administration refusing to provide security briefings as part of the transition.
Biden also named nine White House aides Tuesday.
To combat the pandemic, Biden has urged a national requirement for everyone to wear masks for at least two months and to practice social distancing. But governors –rather than the president – are responsible for those kinds of orders.
Biden said more state and local leaders have begun urging people to wear masks and practice social distancing as the number of deaths is projected to hit 400,000 by his inauguration Jan. 20.
“This has reached a proportion that is way, way, way out of whack,” Biden said. “It is skyrocketing with no real end in sight.”
“What I’m hoping is we don’t have to have any more suffering to convince the public at large that this requires some very significant action,” he added.
Most of Biden’s proposals for federal spending to provide protective equipment and paid sick leave for frontline workers depend on rescinding much of Trump’s tax cut for corporations and wealthy individuals. But congressional Republicans who control the Senate reacted skeptically to more spending, which Biden said could change when Trump leaves office.
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“Hopefully when he’s gone, they’ll be more willing to do what they know needs to be done, what has to be done,” Biden said.
Tony Murray, president of International Association of Fire Fighters Local 4416 in Hamilton County, Indiana, told Biden that face masks are being reused despite being intended for single use. He said hospitals were given priority for protective equipment, leaving firefighters, emergency medical technicians and paramedics to fend for themselves.
“That puts our patients at risk,” Murray said.
Turner, the ICU nurse, urged greater distribution of protective equipment, testing and tracing the contacts of people who are infected. She said nurses have walked picket lines to plead for more equipment.
“There is something seriously wrong when nurses have to take to the street to beg for protection in the middle of a pandemic.
“We’re not being given the protection that we need.”
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Patricia Forrai-Gunter, a school nurse in Cleveland who sits on the executive board of the American Federation of Teachers, said when schools closed in her city in March 20, workers drove their emergency equipment to hospitals. But as officials decide when and how to reopen, she said schools don’t have any equipment and in some cases have poor ventilation.
“We’re ready to help, if we could just have some more boots on the ground,” she said.
The General Services Administration hasn’t approved a formal transition for Biden to prepare for office. He said that prevented him from learning about the size of stockpiles of protective equipment.
“We know there’s not much at all,” Biden said.
He’s also eager to learn about the plan for delivering potential vaccines to more than 300 million Americans: who is first in line, how will they be distributed.
“There’s a whole lot of things not being made available to us,” Biden said.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Biden hears from firefighters, nurses on how to combat COVID-19