Empty shoes line Black Lives Matter Plaza honoring nurses who died from COVID-19

While many Americans worked from home due to the COVID-19 pandemic, nurses didn’t have that luxury — and many of them died.

On Wednesday morning, on International Nurses Day, 400 pairs of white nurses shoes were placed in formation at Black Lives Matter Plaza, to recognize the registered nurses who have died from COVID-19, while trying to keep other patients alive.

“They went into the belly of the beast, because that’s what we do,” said registered nurse Jean Ross, the president of National Nurses United. “That’s our job.”

The labor union, with more than 150,000 members, is calling on the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to issue an emergency temporary standard on infectious diseases, to ensure nurses have appropriate personal protective equipment, or PPE.

“It tells employers what they must do, what type of equipment at a minimum, how much of it, and how to keep a steady supply of it,” Ross said. “We need that.”

More than a year after the March 2020 arrival of the pandemic, Ross said nurses still don’t have an enforceable standard for PPE, while they treat COVID-19 patients.

“You may have enough equipment, but you’re being required to reuse it,” said Ross, offering an example of how some employers are failing to follow guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.


On the day after Inauguration Day, President Joe Biden signed an executive order directing OSHA to consider issuing the emergency order. Ross said the proposed standard has progressed from the Dept. of Labor to the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, within the Office of Management and Budget.

“It’s languishing,” Ross said. “We needed it yesterday.”

Ross said the union will continue to advocate for the emergency temporary standard.

“Our nurses we commemorated here, today, have died,” Ross said. “They are still dying every day.”


Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a reporter at WTOP since 1997. Through the years, Neal has covered many of the crimes and trials that have gripped the region. Neal's been pleased to receive awards over the years for hard news, feature reporting, use of sound and sports.

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