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Tampa Bay nurses were told not to wear masks in hallways. Now hospitals are changing the rules.

At least 20 Tampa Bay hospital workers have already tested positive for COVID-19.

TAMPA, Fla. — Nurses and doctors across Tampa Bay tell 10Investigates they were not allowed to wear masks in hospital hallways or during routine patient care until this week.

Now some local hospitals are changing their tune.

But as more healthcare workers test positive, is it too little, too late?

Many healthcare workers 10Investigates talked to over the past two weeks were too afraid of losing their jobs to go public. Two of them, Candice Cordero and Martin Peebles, wanted to speak up for everyone else.

Credit: Jenna Bourne
Candice Cordero, registered nurse at Blake Medical Center

“I’m just concerned about bringing it home to my son who has asthma, or my parents, who are older,” Cordero said. She's a registered nurse at Blake Medical Center, which is a HCA Healthcare facility.

Cordero is so worried about bringing COVID-19 home from work that she had an outdoor shower built at her home last week.

“So I can come around, shower before I even come in the house, launder my clothes right away,” Cordero said.

Credit: Candice Cordero

Until a few days ago, Cordero and other hospital workers across Tampa Bay tell 10Investigates they weren’t allowed to wear masks at work unless they were caring for patients who either had COVID-19 or were suspected of having it.

“We know that people can be carriers for it. They can walk around without symptoms and still spread that. So that’s definitely a concern,” Cordero said.

Martin Peebles is Largo Medical Center’s chief nurse representative for National Nurses United, a union that represents 10,000 registered nurses at HCA Healthcare hospitals.

Credit: Jenna Bourne
Martin Peebles, Largo Medical Center’s chief nurse representative for National Nurses United

“Everything seems to change on a day-to-day basis. About a week ago, they were not allowed to wear any sort of masks in the hallways. They were being told that they would be written up,” Peebles said. “The reason – some have said they were told that this might scare people. Because people are already scared.”

A March 24 shift brief from St. Joseph’s Women’s Hospital, part of BayCare, instructs employees they “should not be wearing masks or gowns if not taking care of an islocation [sic] patient. (No exceptions.)”

Credit: Jenna Bourne

A BayCare spokesperson tells 10Investigates all staff are now expected to wear masks during their shifts.

A Moffitt Cancer Center spokesperson tells 10Investigates the hospital was following CDC guidelines when it instructed doctors and nurses not to wear masks in the hallways and during routine patient care but changed its policy Friday.

Sarasota Memorial Hospital told 10Investigates Monday, “universal mask wearing… can actually spread infection by people and staff who are not properly trained in infection control practices, while quickly burning through supplies.”

On Wednesday, the hospital changed the rules to allow universal mask-wearing, too.

“All staff and providers that have patient contact will now be provided a surgical mask when they arrive for work to check in at temperature screening stations at SMH entrances,” a Sarasota Memorial spokesperson said Wednesday evening in an email .

HCA Healthcare made the switch on Tuesday.

“A mask, after all, how is that any different from the uniform you wear? The cap you wear? It’s all washable,” Peebles said.

Peebles said the delay in universal mask-wearing unnecessarily exposed essential healthcare workers to the virus.

At least 20 Tampa Bay hospital workers have already tested positive for COVID-19:

  • Tampa General Hospital: 9
  • Sarasota Memorial Hospital: 8
  • Moffitt: 2
  • Lakeland Regional: 1

“I really wish that a lot of these precautions would have bene put forth when we first suggested it about two or three weeks ago,” Peebles said. 

“If they can’t protect themselves, they can’t protect anyone.” Florida’s COVID-19 peak could still be a month away.

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