Governors Must Take Action to Protect Health Care Workers | Physicians for Human Rights

Governors Must Take Action to Protect Health Care Workers

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A nurse who survived COVID-19 protests demanding better PPE outside MedStar's Washington Hospital Center
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The dangers that health care workers and medical professionals are facing nearly one year into this pandemic are unconscionable. Join Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) in urging U.S. governors take swift and decisive action to protect health workers during this deadly COVID-19 surge. We simply cannot let our leaders put more health care workers and first responders in danger through lack of supplies or action. Act now. 

Your Message
Governors: Take Meaningful Action to Protect Health Care Workers
Dear Gov. Cuomo and Gov. Hutchinson,

In view of the current devastating escalation of infections, hospitalizations, and deaths due to COVID-19, I write to add my support to calls made by Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) and other medical associations and human rights organizations to the National Governors Association (NGA) to promote executive action across all the 50 states to institute state-wide mask mandates and to implement deeply needed worker protections in health care settings – measures that safeguard workers with enforceable standards that address personal protective equipment, washing and sanitation, and transparency of information, among other measures.

Over the past many months, federal leadership – both in rhetoric and by example – has failed to support widespread mask wearing to curb the spread of COVID-19. However, the science has been clear. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, for example, has recently published a scientific brief ( that clearly states the case for the use of masks to control the spread of the coronavirus. Furthermore, an October article published ( in the New England Journal of Medicine indicates that wearing face masks may not only decrease the transmission of COVID-19, but may also reduce the severity of disease in those infected. Further still, we have seen how positive examples of state-level mask mandates lead to marked reductions in COVID-19 cases, as reported in a study from Louisiana State University ( following a mask mandate issued by Governor John Bel Edwards in July.

It is encouraging to see President-elect Joe Biden voicing early, strong support for implementing a mask mandate when his administration begins in January 2021. However, the skyrocketing daily rate of new infections demonstrates the absolute necessity for governors across the United States to act now to enact a mask mandate. The country cannot afford to wait two more months for federal leadership to prevent illness and save lives.

Hospitals and other health care settings across many states are again facing dramatic spikes in COVID-19 caseloads, severely straining the system and their capacity to respond effectively. Yet workers who risk their lives daily – including physicians, medical trainees, nurses, technicians, and other health care professionals and caregivers – still lack enforceable worker protections. These essential workers – already burned-out, exhausted, and demoralized – continue to face dangerous working conditions. They urgently need new, enforceable emergency standards for worker protections, workplace safety standards, transparency, accurate reporting, and accountability.

To date, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration has only issued voluntary standards for worker protections in health care settings. These standards are unenforceable, leaving state governments to set and enforce workplace protection standards for health care facilities. I join PHR and others in urging the NGA to implement clearly defined and universally enforceable workplace safety standards to mandate the provision of PPE, clear procedures for social distancing and hygiene practices, and enhanced whistleblower protections to safeguard health workers’ ability to raise the alarm about dangerous conditions without fear of discrimination or retribution.

A potentially catastrophic winter is approaching. This crisis cannot wait. There is still time to save lives, but it is crucial that governors across the 50 states act now.


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