Editorial: Honoring our hero health-care professionals

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Many doctors and other health-care professionals are accustomed to saving lives.

What most of them are not accustomed to is risking their own lives in the process.

But that is the reality for many of these health-care professionals at a time when they are being asked to treat a flood of coronavirus patients.

This is especially true in Nassau County, which Gov. Cuomo said last week has joined New York City in the coronavirus epidemic. As of Tuesday, Nassau’s confirmed coronavirus cases had risen to 16,610 and deaths to 500.

The total number of infected residents in Nassau and Suffolk could possibly top 100,000.

But like New York City and other places across the country, health-care workers in Nassau County lack enough personal protective equipment – N95 surgical masks, face shields,  Nitrile gloves and disposable medical gowns, among other things.

Some have expressed fear for themselves and their family. Others merely think it.

They are heroes in every sense of the word, risking their health and possibly their lives to save others. They are no different than a firefighter rushing into a burning building to save someone.

The only difference is that police and firefighters understood the risks that come with their jobs when they joined their departments.

The same can be said for other essential-service employees, including postal workers, grocery store clerks, gas station attendants and MTA workers.

Police and fire departments have taken to lining up outside of hospitals to salute the heroes from the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic – the medical staff.

On Tuesday, more than 500 first responders from the North Shore stood outside North Shore University Hospital to honor employees as they ended a 12-hour shift helping more than 600 COVID-19 positive patients currently there.

We join the police and firefighters in honoring the medical staff at North Shore and at hospitals across Long Island. And we salute the police and firefighters and EMS workers who also jeopardize their own lives by responding to those infected by the coronavirus.

But the best way to honor the medical staff at hospitals would be to provide them with the personal protective equipment they need as well as the tools, such as ventilators, that they need to treat their sickest patients.

Sadly, the president of the United States and his administration failed to recognize the threat of the pandemic and exert presidential leadership while misleading the American people about the threat and abdicating responsibility for, in the words of Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin, “the worst domestic disaster in more than 100 years.”

The pandemic is not Trump’s fault, but his response is. It has made the pandemic far worse in this country both in terms of the infected and killed and the devastating impact on our community. Just look at countries such as Germany, South Korea and Singapore where the virus has been held in check.

The president has repeatedly said it is up to the states to get the equipment needed by both medical personnel and patients. Since when? The last time the responsibility for national disaster fell to the states was under the Articles of Confederation in the 1780s.

It failed. The Founding Fathers then wrote the U.S. Constitution and ever since then the federal government has been responsible during times of national emergency.

Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law who has been brought in to help run the country’s response, recently stepped up to say at a press conference that the federal stockpile of equipment belonged to the United States, not the states. As if the states were part of another country.

We find it hard to accept that either Kushner or Trump, who has said as president he can do whatever he wants, believe this preposterous concept of government. The more likely answer is that Trump wants to shift blame to others so he can be re-elected.

A review of federal purchasing contracts by the Associated Press shows federal agencies waited until mid-March to begin placing bulk orders for N95 respirator masks, mechanical ventilators and other equipment needed by front-line health care workers

In this void, governors around the country led by Cuomo have taken the lead in responding to this crisis.

Cuomo has become a national figure in the fight against the coronavirus with press conferences based on facts mixed with humor and advice. He has led where others have made excuses by marshaling the resources needed for patients and caregivers from around the state.

He has been particularly effective in pointing out the inefficiency and additional cost of 50 states and the federal government competing for needed equipment and supplies.

Cuomo is certainly not alone in this effort. Governors and mayors across the country – including many Republicans – have done the same.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom said he is organizing states to purchase ventilators and personal protective equipment together.

Oregon announced it was sending a shipment of ventilators to New York. And New York even secured a planeload of ventilators from China – yes, China – on Saturday.

The state got 1,000 ventilators after the Chinese government facilitated a donation from billionaires Jack Ma and Joseph Tsai, the co-founders of the Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba, Cuomo said.

In New York, the shortages of equipment have inspired people and organizations to locate masks and other equipment needed by health-care workers. We hope it also motivates them – and everyone else – to follow the stay-at-home protocols to help prevent the further spread of the virus.

It’s the least we can do to honor the medical personnel on the front lines of this fight.

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