COVID-19 has taken its toll on healthcare workers in the United States. For months, we saw a seemingly endless parade of photos of skin rubbed raw from long hours spent in personal protective equipment, heard devastating stories of hospital personnel who couldn’t go home lest they risk infecting their families, even witnessed them having to take a stand against people insisting the novel coronavirus is a hoax, time and time again.
For now, the national conversation has largely moved away from the pandemic, focusing instead on the uprising happening as all fifty states protest against years of police violence against black people and demand the officers who stood by as George Floyd died in custody be arrested. But COVID-19 hasn’t gone away, and healthcare workers haven’t stopped working those long shifts, taking care of patients and putting themselves at risk.
And now, in an awe-inspiring show of solidarity, nurses are taking to the streets after already working brutal hours to look after protestors suffering at the hands of police and support Black lives.
“This is amazing,” wrote Joshua Potash. “Nurses have been going straight to protests after long COVID shifts to help treat people hit with tear gas and rubber bullets.”
One particularly harrowing account gives an idea of what they’re up against when things turn violent.
A nurse interviewed in Minneapolis in the middle of a protest held back tears as she told a reporter about how police had just pointedly attacked the medical tent where she had been helping an injured protestor.
“I was helping a man who got shot in the leg with a rubber bullet. He was bleeding so much,” she said. “I was trying to look at the wound, and [the police] came up and they were shooting right at us. He grabbed a garbage can to hold it over me so I wouldn’t get hurt.
“They were shooting. I was scared. They didn’t care that he was hurt.”
But even when medical help isn’t needed, nurses are still joining in to support protestors.
All year, we’ve had a shortage of PPE for healthcare workers, preventing them from being properly protected while doing life-saving work. And the protests have already drawn intense criticism of how police forces are decked out with the latest gear and weapons, and often refuse to wear any masks or gloves to prevent the spread of COVID-19 themselves.
It’s an even sharper contrast when these nurses and police officers are thrown into the same mix, essentially pitted against each other as law enforcement pushes back against citizens and nurses do what they can to clean up the damage they leave behind. Both groups have sworn to protect and serve their communities — at least we can commend nurses for doing what they promised.