Nov 18, 2020
Joe Biden Meets with Frontline Health Care Workers Transcript November 18
President-elect Joe Biden met with frontline health care workers on November 18. Read the transcript of the event with Joe Biden’s remarks here.
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Joe Biden: (04:53)
… my fire department got me down. My fire department got me down. So I couldn’t be talking to a group of people I have more admiration for. Look, thanks for doing this and for being willing to share what you’re going through. Because I want to know firsthand. I don’t want to know from reading about it in the press. This crisis has showed the nation we literally couldn’t survive without you all. And I mean that sincerely. You’ve always been essential, even if most of America hasn’t learned that term until recently. You’ve been protecting our communities from months. You’re being called on once again, as a virus surgeons across the nation. And I think in each year areas, it’s basically double in the near term. It’s not enough to praise you. We have to protect you. We have to pay you. And you deserve leadership that listens to you, and that works as hard for you as you do for the families and your communities.
Joe Biden: (05:51)
Because you are in your own communities. You know, the people you’re caring for. So I want to hear from you what’s on your mind, what you think is needed most, what I can do as your president to help you and your colleagues and the challenges you have. I’m not going to talk much more, but I’d like to hear from each of you. And then what I like to do is maybe ask you some questions and get a little more detail if that’s possible. Is that okay? Doc, how are we doing this?
Dr. Nunez Smith: (06:21)
You’re doing perfect. Thank you so much, President-Elect Biden. Agree, it’s time to hear from our guests. So I’ll turn it over to Mr. Tony Murray. Please, Tony, introduce yourself and share with us your experience.
Tony Murray: (06:36)
Hello, first of all, thank you, President-Elect Biden for the opportunity and Dr. Nunez Smith and this great panel of people. It’s such an opportunity to talk about our perspective of things, so thank you. So I’m a firefighter paramedic. I’ve been in public safety for 26 years. Today, I’m speaking to you as the IFF local president for Hamilton County, Indiana, just North of Indianapolis. And I’m happy to provide a perspective here. I’m actually quarantining myself because of potential close contact exposure. So, living this just like so many other people are. As firefighters and EMT and paramedics, we see America at 2:00 AM. We recognize and see that people are struggling. We’ve seen this firsthand during this pandemic. We see what people are going through. In 26 years, I have not had the experience that I’ve experienced through this pandemic in terms of how our response has changed in such a prolonged period of time.
Tony Murray: (07:49)
Talk about just a concern, a couple of things. One is personal protective equipment. This is a concern for the following reasons. One, availability and access from our perspective. Firefighters, EMTs, paramedics, we are most folks first access to the public healthcare system. We’re treating wherever a person is, whatever they need and not just because they’re sick or with the virus or have symptoms, but whatever the emergency is. We’re the first access. We take people in our ambulances and treat them and get them to the hospital system. PPE is so important for our patients. To protect our patients, first and foremost. If we’re able to protect their patients, we need to then be able to protect ourselves by having access to this equipment. It’s so important. It’s vital. This stuff is intended for a single use, it’s disposable in essence. And we are wearing personal protective equipment, sometimes over and over again, because we don’t have quite the access that we need.
Tony Murray: (09:03)
It’s not intended for reuse. That puts people at risk. That puts our patients at risk in the community at risk. When it comes to PPE stockpiles, those really have been in this pandemic issued to hospitals and care facilities first, which leaves fire departments and EMS agencies left to the open market to go seek out and find what PPE is available. Obviously there’s a cost to that as well. And we’re sort of at a disadvantage from fire departments perspective when we operate in this way, going out into the market.
Tony Murray: (09:39)
Healthcare systems, they get their PPE by the semi-load. Fire departments are getting PPE what we can get through cases or maybe a skid or something. So PPE is, first and foremost, a concern. And as we progress through this pandemic, and we’re seeing numbers surge, we’re going through more and more PPE. Part of the issue here too, is that our workspace, wherever we work is really defined by the emergency. We work in uncontrolled environments. We can’t predict where we’re going to be working. This virus, respiratory virus is invisible. Oftentimes we don’t know who is positive and who is not. So we treat every call really by protecting ourselves and protecting our patients.
Tony Murray: (10:32)
Whether that’s Mrs. Smith who fell down. Is not injured, but, but she can’t get family access or has no other nobody else to call at the middle of the night. She calls the fire department, we show up and put Mrs. Smith back in bed and see what she needs. But we have to wear that personal protective equipment, both for Mrs. Smith and for our members. And when you talk about places that we work, it’s crawling into the inside of a car that’s flipped over on the side of a highway to take care of a mother and her child. That is close contact. You can’t get any more close contact than that. Those are the environments that we’re working in, which require us to be prepared and have access. Frontline healthcare workers, including firefighters, EMTs, paramedics, we’re seeing and experiencing increased exposures, increased firefighters, EMS workers who are having to go through quarantine. We’re seeing infection rates of our responders increase. This is becoming taxing, we know that. We know that there is a hopeful vaccine opportunities. And because of this, we live, as you know, Mr. President-Elect, we live communally in the firehouse. We’re doing what we can to space and to separate and to alter our meal eating schedules. But every time we get in those rigs to go answer the bell, we’re less than six feet away from each other. The other concern I would say is that as we go into vaccination, that our workers, our frontline healthcare workers and fire EMS have priority access to a vaccine. I think that that’s really important. And it has to be identified as a resource for us so we can continue to deliver these vital services when people need us the most.
Joe Biden: (12:35)
Well, thank you, Tom. Appreciate it, Mr. President. By the way, thanks for describing the first one in for me. Seriously, fire firefighters are incredible. All right. I’ll ask questions after everybody speaks. And by the way, if you see me in your camera looking up is because you’re on a big screen with me and they keep telling me to look in the camera. When I’m looking at the camera, I can’t see you when you’re talking. So I’m not, not paying attention. There’s a great big board in front of me and Tony’s to my left and Mary you’re my bottom left and so on. So anyway, I just want you to know that I’m not, not paying attention.
Dr. Nunez Smith: (13:16)
Thank you for that. So thank you so much, Tony. So now I’ll turn it over to Brittany Williams. Please introduce yourself, Brittany and share your insights.
Brittany Williams: (13:30)
My name is Brittany Williams and I am a third generation home care worker. And I’m a proud member of SEIU Service [inaudible 00:13:38] out of Seattle, Washington. [inaudible 00:13:41] before I understand more than ever the importance of the work that caregivers like myself do. It’s one of the fields that was literally birthed out of slavery and bondage. [inaudible 00:13:57] and seeing you, President-Elect Biden and Vice-President-Elect Harris put health care workers as one of your top priorities.
Brittany Williams: (14:12)
It’s literally life changing for home care workers. Thank you. Caregivers, we’re the maintainers of life. You have first responders that’s on the screen with me. But once they take care of those people, it is us, the home care workers that maintain that care. We have to go in and out, into the elements, going to the pharmacies, going to the grocery stores to make sure that those people that we care for, because they’re more than clients, they become family. Make sure that they continue to [inaudible 00:14:53]. Even before COVID, even before we fought and won PPE in Washington State, caregivers were out there doing what had to be done, and we still are. We have to live with the ideal in the back of our head. That because of the job that we do going in and out of our homes and in and out of our client’s homes, taking them to their appointments, pharmacy as I said earlier, we could become guilty of passing COVID unknowingly.
Brittany Williams: (15:29)
Like I said, we continue to do our job because it means so much to us. And as a third generation, it’s in my blood. This win is a lot more than just from the face of a caregiver, but I’m a woman of color and a mother of two beautiful black children. For them to see someone in office who has a heart for them, and truly understands the importance of rebuilding and bringing back this nation’s grandure, while we deal with a new situation of Trump influenced regime in Congress. And I understand that you have to bring balance with that. My [inaudible 00:16:21] is in the midst of working with that, in the midst of rebuilding this economy, please remember to push for it with the plan that you have [inaudible 00:16:33] put together, making sure that caregiver’s workforce is center, when it comes to rebuilding this nation. Most importantly, making sure that everyone that’s in home care and all workers are able to have good, strong unions.
Joe Biden: (16:54)
Thank you, Brittany. And I promise you, you have my word, I will do that. I’m already begun to contact people to how we could put something like that-
Joe Biden: (17:03)
I’ve already begun to contact people about how we could put something like that together. My plan, which you know well, yes, ESIU has been strong on your behalf and behalf of all healthcare workers, and there’s a lot more we have to do, but thank you. And I have a couple of questions when we get finished. Okay?
Speaker 1: (17:21)
Dr. Nunez Smith: (17:22)
Thank you, Brittany. So I’ll turn it over now to you, to Mary Turner, to introduce yourself and share with us what you’re seeing in the ICU.
Brittany Williams: (17:32)
Okay. Good afternoon. My name is Mary Turner and I’m the president of Minnesota Nurses Association, which is an affiliate of the National Nurses United. That’s the largest union and professional association of registered nurses in the country. I proudly work as an ICU nurse on the night shift in a COVID unit at North Memorial in Robbinsdale, Minnesota, and I have been since the end of February. Thank you, Mr. President Elect, for inviting us to take part in this round table. National Nurses United has been proud to work closely with you, and we so deeply appreciate your commitment to addressing this pandemic and fighting to protect nurses and other frontline workers. Right now, COVID-19 infections are surging across Minnesota and the country. Our hospitals, I tell you, are overflowing with COVID patients and we aren’t prepared. We don’t have the necessary resources to keep patients and our workers safe. Nurses, I’m telling, you are feeling extremely anxious right now. We know the right way to battle this virus, but our employers and our government are not supporting us. We’re trying to care for patients, despite limited supplies, limited staff, and a rapid decline in the hospital beds. And all the while, we know that we could become infected and our families could be infected at any time.
Brittany Williams: (19:11)
The physical impacts of this virus have been devastating. I myself have held the hand of dying patients who are crying out for their family that they can’t see. I’ve taken care of coworkers as they fight for their lives on a ventilator, and knowing that they got sick because of the hospital or their government hasn’t protected them. Throughout this pandemic, we’ve had to reuse N95s so many times. Sometimes the masks literally fall off our faces. In my hospital, we’re still reusing N95s two times, but I know hospitals that they’re still using eight to 10 shifts. We can’t stay safe when we are using these kind of standards.
Brittany Williams: (20:13)
As a result, nurses are getting sick. A month ago in my hospital, nine ICU nurses were out with COVID. Just recently, we had 12 emergency room nurses out with COVID. We need to protect their frontline workers so that we can take care of you. Remember, there is no second line of defense. It’s us.
Brittany Williams: (20:41)
As president of the Minnesota Nurses Association, I have been on multiple picket lines with frontline healthcare workers who are protesting to get the PPE that they need and other protections. President Elected Biden, there is something seriously wrong when nurses have to take to the streets to beg for protection in the middle of a pandemic.
Brittany Williams: (21:09)
What we’re experiencing in Minnesota is what nurses are experiencing all over the country. We’re not being given the protection that we need. We need to have optimal PPE for all staff to prevent airborne and droplet transmissions. We need testing of our workers and patients and contact tracing, and notification of exposure for healthcare workers. Do you know that I have not been tested yet? And I have been on the front lines in the ICU since February.
Joe Biden: (21:41)
You’re kidding me.
Brittany Williams: (21:43)
No. We also need safe staffing of nurses in the hospital units and patients who are, or may be, COVID positive patients must be isolated from the general patient population. Workers who have been exposed or who are sick need to be allowed to quarantine at home without fear of losing income in their jobs. This is a novel virus, but the principles of infection control are not. Our hospitals have not been providing these basic protections. This is why it is so critical for the federal, state, and local governments to step in to ensure that nurses are protected. Unfortunately, the federal government has not been there. As a result, the pandemic is surging and frontline workers are getting sick and dying.
Brittany Williams: (22:39)
Nurses across the country were so relieved and grateful, Mr. President Elect, when you committed to taking action that we need to have to get this pandemic under control. Thank you for committing to invoke the Defense Production Act, to increase manufacturing and distribution of PPE, which we need to establish, and also for establishing an OSHA emergency temporary standard on infectious diseases, which could enforce protections we need from our employers. Thank you for that.
Brittany Williams: (23:17)
We are also grateful that you have committed to a robust and comprehensive pandemic stimulus plan to make sure that our patients have the economic support they need. We nurses, we know that we are facing immense death and suffering in the coming weeks and we will be there, but we need to act now. We need to act quickly to protect our healthcare workers so that we can save as many lives as possible. Thank you.
Joe Biden: (23:53)
Brittany Williams: (23:57)
I’m sorry I’m so emotional. It’s just-
Joe Biden: (24:00)
You got me emotional. Look, anyone who’s spent significant time in ICU like I did for months … You know what I used to do? After I got out, I observed, this is not COVID, but I observed the incredible mental strain on nurses and ICU units. And you know what I did for a long time after I got out? I used to drive back and forth to Wilmington, Delaware. I commuted every day. But as Vice President, what I would do, I would also, I would go back out to Walter Reed on a night shift and bring dinner and food for the nurses and hang out with them for-
Brittany Williams: (24:59)
The night shift? Cool. That’s cool.
Joe Biden: (25:01)
And well, one of the things that one of my neurosurgeons said to me was you only see people walk out of the ICU. Either they’re walking out and they don’t ever want to come back because they don’t want the memory or they’re carried out and they can’t come back. And the [inaudible 00:25:23] for you guys is missing. You don’t see the people you save come back. And so I’m sorry for me to get personal about it, but there’s a lot that I want to talk with you about, but … We used to say in the Senate, excuse the point of personal privilege here. But thank you, thank you, thank you for what you do and all your colleagues, male and female, who are manning those [inaudible 00:25:53]. And now I know we got Patricia’s next and she’s a nurse with students. So I’m anxious to hear you, hear what you have to say, Patricia. Do they call you Patricia or Pat?
Well, thank you. Pat is great.
Joe Biden: (26:08)
Pat. Is that okay, Pat? You can call me Joe.
That’s absolutely fine. Yes.
Joe Biden: (26:13)
Well, first of all, thank you for having me. And also thank you to my colleagues here on this call for sharing and just know that we’re all with you and our thoughts are with you. We’re all in this together. And on a positive note, we now have good leadership and that’s going to change things around. That is going to make the difference.
I’ve been a school nurse for my whole life, 38 years. I work in the inner city Cleveland schools where there’s 100% poverty and 85% of the children are minority. And I’m also a proud union member of the American Federation of teachers, where I sit on the executive board as the only nurse. And I like to be at the table as a union member, because I like to have a voice. I think we do the work and we should be able to share our voice at the table and I’m so appreciative of that.
I think so much of the problem is that there’s been no federal plan, no leadership. And it’s really hurt us. Our health department here in Cleveland really is bare bones. It’s still bare bones. Our contact tracers are working 24/7, but they’re about four days out. They’re about four days from contacting a positive case. So in those four days, that positive COVID person has been in the community, maybe with other family members. And I think that has really contributed to the increasing in cases.
Also, when this first happened, the school nurses got together and our schools closed on March 20th. And we all got together and we got all of our PPE out of schools and we drove it to the hospitals because they needed it. It was the right thing to do. So now, as we talk about reopening and going back, we don’t have any PPE. Our school buildings, our infrastructure will be in bad shape. We have no ventilation in some of those schools. And you have to remember, whatever is going on in the community is going to be going on in the schools. So as long as the numbers are accelerated in the community, we, we just can’t reopen. And we want to reopen. We are remote. The school nurses have set up virtual clinics for all our kids in all our schools. They have our number. They can go on and talk to us virtually anytime. And the one thing that concerns me in talking to all these children is their mental health condition.
Joe Biden: (29:21)
They are really in bad shape. They are traumatized and I fear for them now. And I fear that when we go back, we won’t have the boots on the ground to give them the support. If I could do anything, I would mandate a school nurse in every school every day. And I’m sure Dr. Biden would support me on this as well.
Joe Biden: (29:50)
Teachers need support. A teacher can’t be a psychologist, a counselor, Johnny has a nosebleed and a meltdown, and they are trying to teach. They love to teach. It’s what they do. But they can’t do it all. And so many times in the past, they’ve been demonized and their evaluations have been based on how students are doing. And it’s not fair. They’ve had value added put into their evaluations many times, and it’s just not been fair to them. They do want to teach. They do. They are good at what they do.
I think the science has not carried the conversation. When we talk about people wearing masks in public, I really feel like we need to get the science out there more. If we get the science out there, I think the patterns will follow. I think people will be more willing to wear a mask and follow through. But I think the science has been ignored and I think that’s what has caused all the disruption.
Oh, let’s see. I was fortunate enough to be a part of the Clinton Global Initiative. We went and took care of children in the last hurricane. And I just wanted to say thank you for that as well, because we’re about taking care of children everywhere. I’m also worried about the children at the borders right now. AFT went there. We tried to get in. We tried to see some children and they threw us out. I thought we were going to get arrested, and we never did really get to see how the children were doing. But listen, those are going to be our children. They’re going to come into our country. We need to make sure they’re healthy, make sure they’re immunized. And I would like the opportunity to, as a school nurse, to be able to somehow be a part of that.
I think that’s about all I had on my list. I hope school nurses are going to stand ready to help with this vaccine distribution. School nursing has a public health foundation. We’ve been through smallpox and polio and measles. And actually it was a school nurse that discovered H1N1 in the schools. So we’re ready to help. If we could just have some more boots on the ground, we’ll do whatever we can do to help you.
Joe Biden: (32:49)
Well, thank you all. Let me say a few things and I want to ask you each specific questions if I may. Dr. Nunez Smith up at Yale knows a great deal about the science and I could see the look on her face as each of you were talking, it struck her as well.
Joe Biden: (33:09)
Look, number one, I am optimistic, but we should be further along. One of the problems that we’re having now is the failure of the administration to recognize. The law says that the General Services Administration has a person who recognizes who the winner is. And then they have to have access to all the data and information that the government possesses to be prepared. And it doesn’t require there to be an absolute winner. It says the apparent winner. The apparent winner. And we’ve been unable to get access to the kinds of things we need to know about-
Joe Biden: (34:03)
Yes to the kinds of things we need to know about the depth of the stockpiles. We know there’s not much at all. We get to the point where we have a sense of when these vaccines comes out, how they’ll be distributed, who will be first in line, what the plan is. There are over 300 million Americans and beyond our border that they’re going to have to be taken care of. And there’s a whole lot of things that we just don’t have available to us. Unless it’s made available soon, we’re going to be behind by weeks or months being able to put together the whole initiative relating to the biggest promise we have with two drug companies coming along and finding 95% effectiveness efficiency in the vaccines, which is an enormous promise. So, I just want to tell you that that’s the only slow down right now that we have. We put together I think a first rate team that you would all be proud of. And we’re all ready to go and doing an awful lot of work right now. But here’s the thing that I want to mention.
Joe Biden: (35:13)
There’s already a circumstance where nationwide, because of the requirement of school districts, county offices, mayors, governors having to balance their budgets, they’ve already had to lay off 666,000 teachers. 666,000 teachers have been laid off already since March. And I’m worried that, Tony, that I know in Noblesville, you have a force about 135 firefighters.
Tony Murray: (35:54)
Joe Biden: (35:55)
And the question’s going to be: When do we have to start laying off, because the counties and the cities don’t have the money? They can’t deficit spend, they have to spend based on balancing their budget when the first responders and fire service will be laid off, including all those folks like you who run those emergency ambulances and get people to where they have to get quickly. And so the point I want to make to you is that I was the guy who ran the Recovery Act when we inherited the Great Recession when we got elected back in 2009. And I was asked to figure out how to do distribute, to keep us from going into a depression, $800 billion in 18 months. And I was in constant contact with all the local officials, governors, city, county, all folks, including the various unions you all belong to and the skills that you all possess.
Joe Biden: (37:07)
And we were able to put, I was authorized, I was able to spend $140 billion on state and local governments to keep you all employed. They didn’t get fired to make sure that the fire service maintained its same strength, because the community badly needs to make sure that the nurses, doctors, et cetera, mental health clinics all were able to stay open. That law enforcement was able to still function, et cetera. And Congress has already passed that money, it’s sitting there. It’s available right now. But we’re unwilling, some of our friends on the Senate side are unwilling to spend the money. When we talk about states going bankrupt and having to lay off thousands upon thousands of people, one of the leaders on the other side said, “Well, let the states go bankrupt. Just let them go bankrupt.” It’s not a responsible position.
Joe Biden: (38:10)
And I’m hoping that the reason why my friends on the other side have not stepped up to do something is because of their fear of retribution from the President. And hopefully when he’s gone, they’ll be more willing to do what they know should be done, has to be done in order to save the communities they live in. And so, let me begin by asking you all, and I’d like each of you to give me a brief answer. Tony, how much do you worry about, as a president of the firefighters, do you worry about the mental health, the need for your employee, your firefighters? And I know it’s not something people are comfortable talking about, but mental health is the same as physical health. There should be no distinction whatsoever, none whatsoever.
Joe Biden: (39:04)
And just like an awful lot of my son’s compatriots who fought with him in Iraq for a year, coming home with PTSD and needing help. But they’re trained not to ask for anything, we’ve got to get by this. I think there’s a lot of emergency room nurses, there’s a lot of frontline workers…
Joe Biden: (39:24)
Joe Biden: (40:26)
107 students. It just can’t go on like this. And think of all those families you serve, Pat, that in fact don’t have enough food to eat and are worried whether or not the cafeteria will stay open to be able to get food to their homes. You see the lines. You see the lines for miles and miles and miles on television. People in their cars, because of the enormous food shortages people have right now. And, Brittany, when I look at what you guys are doing is enormous. Think of all the people on the screen who in fact have children or have an elderly parent who’s really sick and in trouble, and they have to make a choice between do they give up their job and stay home to take care of the child who’s home, who’s young, and/or make sure that they take care of that elderly parent who is sick and needs help.
Joe Biden: (41:27)
And you’re there. You’re there. No, I really mean it. I’m not being solicitous. My dad was in hospice at my home and my mother as well later. I watch it. I have great family and I had an income as a US senator, but I thought of all those people that I know who had to make a choice, do they eat or take care of their by keeping their job, or do they take care of their child, or take care of their elderly parent? And so, there’s a lot of things we can do and we can easily afford to do as a nation. But let me ask a couple of specific questions. What is your sense, Pat, and tell me about your, what you call your Corona Crew. What’s your Corona Crew is? Because I read the background on is. Talk with me about it for a minute.
So, the Corona Crew is made up of four school nurses that just got on a Zoom call, like we are and said, “Okay, what are we going to do? What are we going to do? Our children are suffering, our parents are suffering, our teachers are suffering. What are we going to?” So, we created a hotline it’s 838-WELL. And anyone in the community can call and talk to us. And we direct them, if they’re sick or sometimes they just want empathy. They just want someone to listen to what they’re going through. And we’re, of course now with the increase in the virus, we need to put more nurses on it. And we are, but from that, we’ve been able to collect data and we share it with the health department and we have a plan to figure out what direction we have to go with this virus.
We are taking a lot of calls from children. I had a call the other day, the child said, “I have a fever. My mother said, ‘Take some Tylenol, I have to go to work.'” Most of our parents, I would say all of our parents are essential workers. So, the children are home and they’re trying to do remote learning. And some of them are sick. And so, we called this child’s mother and we were able to get her tested and she was positive. And that’s how we’re trying to help the people in our community.
Joe Biden: (44:26)
Mary, let me ask you a question, Mary, you talked about the hospital’s administrators not stepping up. Can you tell me a little more about that from your perspective?
Brittany Williams: (44:45)
First, I will say at our hospital that we’re down to the two shifts that we wear N95. And we’re a level one trauma, and they have tried to bring down the numbers, ’cause we started off back in February wearing our N95s 10 times, 10 shifts. So, they have tried, but this is where the lack of a federal plan has really hurt the states. I mean, I’m on the governor’s task force in Minnesota. And so, I know all about when we had shipments of a million N95s coming our way and all of a sudden they were sidetracked and they didn’t come. And so, I have to place the blame on the lack of our hospitals being able to get secure supply lines.
Brittany Williams: (45:38)
Okay. What our problem is now is that we need to be… My hospital’s going down in their use, but I have other hospital systems all across M&A and we span four different that are not doing that. Nurses that are still wearing at 10 times a piece, hospitals that aren’t doing universal masking. Every person in a hospital should be wearing some kind of personal protective equipment. I mean, everybody. The housekeepers, the food service, everybody. From the moment you get out of your car, you should be wearing personal protective equipment. That’s not happening.
Joe Biden: (46:19)
Is it not happening, Mary, because they don’t have the equipment or is it not happening because you don’t think it’s necessary?
Brittany Williams: (46:24)
Well, that’s the thing is that we have yet to hear how much equipment that they actually have. And this is where it’s the go ask mom, go ask dad. You’ve got the state saying, “We’ve got the supplies, they just need to ask for it.” And also the transparency is what we need. We need the transparency as far as how you’re going to handle elective surgeries and all the COVID patients at the same time. We need transparency on how much staffing we have. What’s it going to look like? When are we going into a surge plan? A lot of our anxiety is the not knowing what the plan is.
Joe Biden: (47:00)
All right. I understand that. My son-in-law is a surgeon in Philadelphia at one of the major hospitals, and they’re going through a similar crisis, but it’s mainly because not being able to access PPE. And the idea that hospitals should have to compete with one another to get PPE is bizarre. That shouldn’t happen at all. Let me ask you another question, if I may. What is the, Tony, what is the greatest concern that your firefighters, particularly…
Joe Biden: (47:45)
I mean, ’cause I’ve observed but I’ve never seen a firefighter decide whether it’s going to crawl under that car that is upside down, the roof crushed and say, “By the way, are you black or white in there?” Or, “Do you have COVID or don’t you have COVID? Do you have a child or don’t you have a child?” You guys just go do it. And what is the major concern your women and men are talking about these days? About whether they’re going to be rescuing someone who has COVID and they’re going to get it or is it just the constant concern and frustration about constantly being called on in times when there’s no one else to call, call your fire department? No matter what it is. I mean, talk to me about… Look, I spent a lot of time in firehouses. Tell me what’s going on around that table, other than social distancing, in the firehouse when you’re having a meal. What’s the nature of the discussion?
Tony Murray: (48:47)
And thanks for bringing up the mental health piece, because that is in all of us. That transcends every worker. It’s the mental health piece. And so, thanks for bringing that up. And my union’s done a great job, even before the pandemic, of bringing this issue out of the shadows and to talk about this and to get the treatment that people need. So, we’ve been blessed to have a foundation and guidance to go to it. We’re a brother and sisterhood too, so oftentimes we’re checking in with one another. But to answer your question about the greatest concern of firefighters and paramedics, I really would answer it this way, that it’s not about doing the job, because every time the bell rings, our commitment and our pledge is to respond. You can count on us always. But I think always in the back of the mind is, “Okay, if I contract this disease, I don’t want to bring it home to my family. I don’t want to bring it home to my kids. I don’t want to bring it inside.”
Tony Murray: (49:49)
So, I literally have people sleeping in their car for a certain amount of time outside of the home in the driveway, so they don’t take it into their family until they can get a test or get a results of the test. So, there’s many, many things happening. People sleeping in campers. That I think is the biggest the component here is to we have to do our job and we’ll always find a way to do our job. And we’ll never ask a question, we’ll just do it. That’s what we do. We go and answer the call and take care of the emergency, take care of the person. This is a humanitarian effort every day, 365, that’s the work that we do. But I think that those two things go hand in hand is that of fear of transmitting to family, but also having to just push all of these feelings down, because you got to get up and go the next day. You got to get up and do it again.
Joe Biden: (50:49)
Yeah. Mary, let me ask you. I’ve done a number of these kinds of calls over the last 10, 15 months. And what I’m finding, I spoke to.
Joe Biden: (51:02)
What I’m finding, I spoke to a registered nurse. She happened to be an ICU nurse. It was in Philadelphia. Actually, that’s not true. It was in Norristown, I think, but anyway, Pennsylvania. She talked about when she got home her husband would, as she pulled in the garage … Her husband would make sure she had a change of clothes in the garage. They installed a portable shower in the laundry room as you went in. She’d strip down completely, take a shower and cleanse, and put on a new set of clothes before she’d go in the house because she was scared to death that she would transmit it to her children. She happened to have young children, but it’s irrelevant whether young or old. Is that something your nurses talk about, or do they do …? Talk to me about when they leave a shift and they’re dealing with a COVID patient.
Brittany Williams: (52:14)
That’s exactly what’s happening all across the nation. Nurses all across the nation are doing that to protect their households. I’ve heard it. I work with a lot of young nurses with young children, and they describe that very thing. I feel for them when it gets to be 30 below here in Minnesota, changing in the garage.
Joe Biden: (52:37)
Well, this woman had the garage and she was able to go in the laundry room. It’s right off the garage.
Brittany Williams: (52:44)
Yeah. I’m just trying to lighten the mood a little bit here, but you bring a very good point. When we’re at work and just like with the firefighters, we do not have the luxury. We do not have the luxury of stopping and thinking about our emotions. I think sometimes my release is when I do some kind of a media thing because it all comes crashing around me. I listen to nurses all over my organization, text me, call me, Facebook me their concerns. Like you said, you’re on 24/7, 365 days a year, and you don’t get the luxury to stop and think about your emotions at all.
Joe Biden: (53:29)
Well, one of the things, I think is … I’m sorry, go ahead, Pat.
I wanted to chime in on what Mary was saying. We had a little bit of a conversation before you came on. She shared with me, and I heard this on my AFT call this past week, that nurses are having a positive COVID test, and they are being made to come to work, positive COVID. They can’t take off because they won’t be paid. Even some with symptoms are being told they must show up on the job and that is just very troubling to me.
Joe Biden: (54:13)
It is very troubling and should have been anticipated because we’re in a situation where we lost a hundred and how many died last week? We’re up to a quarter million dead. We have hundreds of thousands of people on a weekly basis now, 1,000 people a day dying, and now it’s up beyond that. There’s just such an overwhelming shortage. I’m keeping you all awfully long here, and I’m going to end this, but look. One of the things that I have concluded, and the team that we put together, I’ve been for the last seven months three times a week getting an hour and a half brief from some of the leading docs in the country on a regular basis about the state of play that day, that week, exactly who’s sick where, how, why, et cetera. One of the things that we should be investing our money is finding out how to get and quick turnaround testing available.
Brittany Williams: (55:24)
Joe Biden: (55:24)
You notice that that is running short. The idea, you can get a test and find out in four days doesn’t help you a whole hell of a lot.
Brittany Williams: (55:32)
Joe Biden: (55:32)
In terms of being able to do much of anything. That’s one of the things that we’re going to be working on as well, but look. What I’d like to do is I’d like to make sure that we can figure out how to stay in contact with you all. There’s a group of all the folks I’ve spoken to we do that with, and to let you know what we’re doing, what we plan on doing. Now I have no budget. I can’t do any of this until I’m sworn in or I can convince the President now to do things that should be being done already. There’s hardly been a meeting that’s taken place in the White House about any of this, but I’m convinced that we can get it done. The question is whether we wait till another … The estimates are, Dr. Nunez-Smith can tell you and the group we put together. The estimates are we’re going to have another, as many as another 200,000 dead, maybe exceed 400,000 people by the time we get sworn in. This is reached a proportion that is way, way, way, way out of whack.
Joe Biden: (56:56)
You look at those curves I look at every day in the brief I get. It is skyrocketing. It is skyrocketing with no real end in sight now in 44 states. One of the things that I’m going to be doing, matter of fact, I’m not even going to wait till we’re sworn in. There’s enough Republican and Democratic governors who have now come around, the Democratic governors, and I’m not being partisan with the exception of a few Republicans like the Governor of Ohio who’s been straightforward about wearing masks and the like. Now you have the Governor of North Dakota, you have others figuring out that this is real, we’ve got to do something.
Joe Biden: (57:42)
It’s not a political statement. It’s not about whether you’re a tough guy or not a tough guy, whether you’re … It’s about patriotism. If you really care about your country, what you want to do is keep your neighbors and your family safe. That’s what you do, and you wear a mask, and you socially distance. You wash your hands regularly, and you access, when available, the ability to get testing. I don’t mean to in any way suggest there’s not a lot more we could talk about, but I want to thank you for sharing your stories with me and everything you’re doing to keep your community safe. You really are, it’s not hyperbole, you’re heroes. You’re struggling to get your personal protective equipment you need to do your job, protect yourself, protect your families. You’re focused on your students, your patients while your own kids are struggling with remote learning, by the way. If we don’t figure out how to get these kids back to school, we’re going to find that an entire generation is going to lose a year, a year and a half in terms of their learning ability. They’re going to be behind the curve. This is a building block problem here.
Joe Biden: (58:58)
We’re worried about your parents and your students, as I said, the mental health in addition to the burdens that you and your families are taking on. All those folks, by the way, are being quarantined at home. There’s a significant rise in spousal abuse. There’s a significant rise in suicides. It’s all real. What I’m hoping is we don’t have to have anymore suffering to convince the public at large that this requires some very significant action. One of the things I’m going to be doing is thanking the governors that have already moved, but calling on all the leaders in the states to have mandatory masking, testing, tracing, social distancing.
Joe Biden: (59:49)
For example, the docs that have been advising me all along are telling me, and it’s going to cause problems in my family. Thanksgiving is coming up. Well, they said, “Joe, maximum 10 people in your home, maximum, Joe.” I got a big family you probably heard a lot about. We do everything together. There are going to be three of us because you can’t mix the families that have been away, that haven’t been quarantined, not away, in other words, live a different place. All of these difficult decisions, people are going to be making. We got to give them hope. We got to give them hope, and I believe there is reason for optimism. Granted, it could come quicker if we move quicker, but there is hope on the way, not because of me.
Joe Biden: (01:00:36)
I’m not like, hope is on the way, but there’s a realization that’s coming upon everyone, and I promise you I will be using the Defense Authorization Act. I will be using the Bully Pulpit. The words of a president matter, whether they’re good, smart, bad or good. A president can make a market climb or cause it to fall, can send people to war, can bring peace. The words of a president matter. I promise you, I’m going to be echoing to the public as President of the United States and as [inaudible 01:01:13] President of the United States, all that you’ve been talking to me about, all that you’ve been talking to me about. It does matter.
Joe Biden: (01:01:20)
It does matter, if in fact, you and the organizations you belong to let your local officials know. Contact them, write them. Let them know, Republicans and Democrats, what you want to see done. It will, I believe, change. You’re all making extraordinary sacrifices, and you’re bearing a significant amount of the stress, and that is worsened by, I think, the mismanagement of this virus thus far. I want you to know first and foremost how grateful, and I mean this from the bottom of my heart, how grateful I personally am, and my family is to all of you, all of you. You’ve done so damn much, and I want to thank you. As President, I’m going to fight as hard as I can, as hard as you’re fighting for your communities.
Joe Biden: (01:02:17)
We’re going to make sure that you get the personal protective equipment you need. We’re going to make sure you have paid sick leave. We’re going to make sure that you can care for your families. I mean it sincerely. We’re going to make sure we don’t just praise you, but we actually praise you. We’re going to protect your right to collective bargaining, and form a union, and we’re going to lead a robust and aggressive effort to control the virus. We’re going to provide cities, states, schools, businesses with federal guidance on operating. There is no one single place anybody can go to get the kind of guidance they need whether it’s opening a school or maintaining access to healthcare. We’re going to work like the devil with state and local leaders on mask mandates, as I said, Democrat, Republican.
Joe Biden: (01:03:07)
Together, we’re going to honor the work you’re doing and aggressively control this crisis. I promise you, that’s what I’m going to attempt to do. When I make a mistake, I’ll acknowledge it. I’ll take responsibility because it is, this is like going to war. This is like going to war. You need a commander-in-chief. I’ve watched a lot of presidents in my career. I’ll make mistakes, but I promise you I’ll acknowledge them when I make them as well as I’ll take responsibility. Thank you, and as my mother would say, hope you keep me in your prayers too that I get it right. Okay?
Brittany Williams: (01:03:48)
Thank you, President.
Joe Biden: (01:03:50)
Brittany Williams: (01:03:51)
Speaker 2: (01:03:51)
Thank you very much.