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12 nurses at UIC hospital contract COVID-19; union blames lack of protective equipment

One nurse was allegedly scolded by a manager for wearing a mask in a room when a COVID-19 patient was having a breathing tube inserted, according to the Illinois Nurses Association.

A union representing nurses at the University of Illinois Hospital in Chicago said they haven’t been given adequate personal protective equipment to treat COVID-19 patients.
A union representing nurses at the University of Illinois Hospital in Chicago said they haven’t been given adequate personal protective equipment to treat COVID-19 patients.
University of Illinois Hospital & Health Sciences System

A dozen nurses at the University of Illinois Hospital in Chicago have contracted COVID-19 due to a lack of adequate protective equipment, the nurses’ union alleged on Friday.

The nurses say they live with a daily fear of running out of a lack of masks, gowns, gloves or goggles, according to a statement from the Illinois Nurses Association, which represents nurses at the Near West Side hospital.

One nurse was even scolded by a manager for wearing a mask in a room when a COVID-19 patient was having a breathing tube inserted, Illinois Nurses Association’s executive director Alice Johnson said in the statement.

“These nurses served patients on the front line of the fight to contain the coronavirus pandemic and risked their lives to make sure patients received proper care,” Johnson said. “We hoped their hospital and their government would protect them, but they failed.”

The hospital contends the nurses have adequate personal protective equipment, or PPE, and their protocols meet or exceed guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, according to an emailed statement attributed to Michael Zenn, CEO of UI Health.

Zenn said only a “limited number” of the 12 cases of COVID-19 in their nurses are due to exposure inside the hospital.

On Friday, the hospital implemented new rules requiring all hospital employees to wear masks throughout the day, Zenn said.

“While we are very concerned about the availability of PPE and are doing all we can to responsibly conserve our supply, we have not yet run out of any materials,” Zenn said. “There are no circumstances in which we would ask our care providers to forgo PPE when caring for COVID-19 patients.”

On Friday, Illinois health officials confirmed another 488 cases of COVID-19 and eight additional deaths in the state. Illinois’ COVID-19 tally now stands at 3,026 cases and 34 deaths.

On Monday, Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s office said Illinois has requested 2.34 million N95 face masks from the federal government, but has received just over 10% of that request — 246,860 masks. Illinois has also requested 4,000 ventilators and received none. The White House later vowed to send Illinois 300 ventilators and 250,000 masks.