Dear Members,

Our fight for appropriate personal protective equipment continues.

We’re hearing from RNs who have not been fit-tested yet for an N95 because the area where they work is deemed low risk.

We’re hearing from RNs who are being told not to wear an N95 when you know you need it.

We’re hearing concerns about availability of equipment and supplies.

This is creating anxiety and uncertainty about safety.  We want employers to provide access to the protective equipment you need when your professional judgment tells you to protect yourself and your patients.

On Wednesday night, I had another call with Minister Haggie, officials from the Department of Health and Community Services including infection control, and public sector unions.

They maintain the science is definitive. COVID-19 is spread through droplets and N95s are only required in high priority areas and when performing aerosol-generating procedures.

We disagree. As the primary advocate for the health and safety of front-line RNs and NPs in Newfoundland and Labrador, we cannot ignore the scientific uncertainty surrounding COVID-19 transmission.

RNU shares the position of the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions (CFNU).All health care workers at risk of exposure to COVID-19 should be provided with and have access to a fitted N-95 respirator or one of a higher grade.

The key lesson we learned from the 2003 SARS outbreak is that when the scientific debate has not been settled, we must err on the side of caution. Right now, we still don’t know everything we need to know about this new virus.

We have to be safe, rather than sorry. We have to take reasonable precautions.

This means relying on the professional judgement of the health care worker providing the care and always erring on the side of caution.

CFNU updated its COVID-19 position statement on March 23.

The statement now recognizes the critical importance of the point-of-care risk assessment in determining personal protective equipment (PPE).

Individual health care workers are best positioned to determine the appropriate PPE required based on the situation or their interactions with an individual patient. We need to trust your judgement and expertise.

In other words, if you ask for an N95 based on your own assessment, you shouldn’t be denied.

CFNU’s position statement also calls for government and employers to designate airborne precautions and the use of N95 respirators at all times in clinical areas considered aerosol-generating medical procedure “hot spots” (e.g. ICU, ER, and trauma centres that manage COVID-19 patients).

We’ve updated the FAQ on the COVID-19 section of our website to reflect these positions.

Please know we won’t stop working to establish a united position with government and employers on this issue. We know the conflicting positions creates uncertainty and confusion. Just as you do everyday in your nursing practice, I urge you to follow the precautionary principle and err on the side of caution.

Here in our province and across the country, nurses unions will continue to fight to keep health care worker safe.

In solidarity

Debbie Forward, RN