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Recovered from coronavirus, MN nurse questions protective equipment rules

"I don't want to get in trouble, and I need my job. But also, it's not worth nurses getting sick either for something we deserve. We deserve to be protected."

FRIDLEY, Minn. — Emergency Room RN Sarah White started treating coronavirus patients as soon as they started arriving at Unity Hospital in Fridley.

"Every shift. Every shift I've worked, I've worked with COVID patients. And I have been told by management I am not allowed to wear my N95 mask," White said.

From the beginning, White said she's been critical of the personal protection equipment they've been given.

N95 masks are believed to offer the best protection from the coronavirus.

On March 31st, Allina began "universal masking," meaning everyone working in the ER should wear some type of mask.

But at Unity Hospital, White says they're told to only wear N95s for certain procedures like intubation, known to put the virus in the air.

Then, on April 8th, White tested positive for COVID-19.

When asked if she thinks a lack of PPE got her sick, White responded, "I do. I was in the red zone. I was in the COVID zone with goggles and a regular surgical mask with patients that were sick."

White says, thankfully, her case was mild. But it was still enough to keep her home for three weeks. 

When White finally returned to work Friday, she was left wondering why they're still not using N95 masks for all procedures with COVID patients, just for some like intubation.

In a statement, Allina Health says they follow guidance from the CDC and Minnesota Health Department and, "While there may be slight variations by location, there are standards that each health care facility must adhere to."

Allina Health adds in their statement that they understand the concern many of their health care workers face, value feedback, and "continuously evaluate strategies to ensure the safety of our patients and employees."

White feels it's important to stand up herself and fellow nurses.

"I don't want to get in trouble, and I need my job. But also, it's not worth nurses getting sick either for something we deserve. We deserve to be protected," she said.

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The state of Minnesota has set up a hotline for general questions about coronavirus at 651-201-3920 or 1-800-657-3903, available 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

There is also a data portal online at mn.gov/covid19.