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Protect our health care workers

A Long Island  nurse disinfects a gown.

A Long Island  nurse disinfects a gown. Some nurses say they have to wear the same gown for an entire shift. Credit: Melanie Auteri

John Abruzzo and Ali Dennis Guillermo died on the front lines fighting for the lives of patients suffering from the coronavirus.

Over the last two weeks, the two nurses — Abruzzo, who lived in Seaford and worked at Huntington Hospital, and Guillermo, of East Patchogue, who worked at Long Island Community Hospital — died after contracting COVID-19. Five other medical support workers have died as well. That is tragic.

Even more worrisome is the recent report in Newsday that more than 1,100 hospital staff members — and there are likely others because some Long Island medical institutions did not release their data — have contracted COVID-19 since the pandemic began.

Thousands of staff members of hospitals, nursing homes and group homes are exposed to the virus. And then there are those who transport patients, handle the bodies, or work in other related fields, from firefighters, police officers and emergency medical technicians to those who work with the National Guard, medical examiners, morgues, and more.

This is not the picture of a country that’s “in great shape,” as President Donald Trump said Friday. This is not the picture of a state where “the people we lost are the people we couldn’t save,” as Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said last week, talking of having enough ventilators, beds and staff.

What about health care workers? They’re paying an enormous price. Every day, they make sacrifices by going to work. Beyond the medical work they do, they spend hours talking with and consoling family members who can’t be with their loved ones, acting as the go-between for final conversations by phone or video chat, and often holding patients’ hands as they take final breaths. Some workers are pregnant, and some have vulnerable family members at home so they are isolating themselves in basements and changing their clothes or scrubbing themselves clean in their garages.

Some of Long Island’s facilities spent weeks begging for gowns, N95 masks, and other personal protective equipment, at times having to re-use masks. Gowns are still in short supply. The Trump administration took far too long to command the supply chain to provide the equipment where it was most needed. The generous gifts of food, and the salutes and singing and bell-ringing between shifts, are beautiful to see and hear, and provide some comfort. But we need to do more.

Friday, Cuomo proposed creating a federal fund to compensate health care providers and other essential workers similar to efforts established after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. It’s needed to help our medical professionals, transit workers and others who will have injuries, both physical and psychological, from doing the jobs we need them to do. Congress must include the creation of this fund in the next emergency relief package. Also important: Suffolk County’s decision to extend line-of-duty injury benefits to all union employees who test positive.

To prevent even more tragedy, we need to make sure all of our essential workers get the supplies and protection they need, and that they’re cared for when they’re at risk, or diagnosed with the virus.

We grieve for those we’ve lost, and for those we will lose.

— The editorial board