Health care workers held a vigil across from the White House Thursday night, lighting 481 candles, saying each represented the life of a nurse lost to COVID.
Activists recited poems and told personal stories, claiming the nurses' deaths were preventable and demanding workplace covid safety protections from both the government and the for-profit foundations of the hospitals they serve.
"When our workplaces aren't safe, nurses leaves, nurses get sick. And as these candles demonstrate, nurses die," Julia Truelove, an intensive care unit registered nurse in Washington, D.C., told ABC News. "We're here to say there is no nursing shortage, there is a shortage of workers willing to work under these nightmarish conditions."
"We're advocating for two main actions the federal government needs to take to help us be safe at work," Truelove said..
"The first is for OSHA to pass a permanent COVID standard which means that going forward, our employers are held accountable for keeping us safe with optimum precautions at work. The second is for the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) to base their guidance on the best science and the best public health, not just what is best for business," she said.
"The CDC is now telling us that if we're COVID positive we can come back to work no problem. That's unsafe for nurses, it's unsafe for our patients, it's unsafe for our coworkers," she said.
Nurses throughout the U.S., arguing they are overworked, understaffed, and negotiating for baseline safety protocols, have organized through National Nurses United, one of the fastest growing unions in the country, to take up their cause in the political arena with membership close to 175,000 worldwide.
"I have to work tomorrow, I have to work tomorrow morning, I'd like to be at home,” Truelove said, adding she was exhausted after taking on multiple 12-hour shifts multiple times a week. "But I know that someone has to be here and someone has to stand up right now for nurses from across the country that can't be here, so I'm happy to be here to represent those nurses who are fighting in their communities but yes, it's an extra burden because the government isn't doing it."
"Nurses will always fight to be by our patient's sides but when we are sick, when we are driven away from the profession, or worst of all when we are lost to this world for good, who will be left to care for the patients,” Truelove said.
"Nurses are not expendable. We cannot afford for one more nurse's life to go out due to preventable causes," she said.
ABC News' Lalee Ibssa contributed to this report.