Tuesday, 14 April 2020

Unmasked: The story about the nurse and the mask

A video clip of a tearful Chicago nurse, Imaris Vera, claiming that she quit her job because she wasn’t allowed to wear a protective face mask in hospital – not even her own – when she wasn’t directly attending Covid-19 patients went viral, with over 9 million views.

Her story – and video – were featured by America’s CBS News and Britain’s Daily Mail.

But then came the backlash. 

The Federalist, a right-wing online journal and President Trump supporter, ran a story with the headline:
‘WATCH: CBS News Posts Fraudulent Video Of ICU Nurse Crying Over Poor Working Conditions’
The Federalist alleged that the nurse’s claims were “fraudulent” but offered no evidence in their story to warrant that allegation. 

(Note: On 26 March Twitter temporarily locked The Federalist’s account for violating its rules against spreading misinformation about the coronavirus.)

Then many other websites, mostly conservative and Trump supporters, followed with allegations or suggestions that nurse Imaris Vera’s claims were untrue.

The Blaze, a pay-tv and website with a far-right bias, ran the headline:
‘CBS News pushed viral video of nurse crying over pandemic shortages — then had to walk it back’

Then more mainstream news outlets ran with the story that CBS had got it wrong about the nurse and her video.

Fox News ran the headline:
‘CBS News panned for tearful video of nurse claiming she quit over coronavirus concerns’
Their story claimed:
‘CBS News has come under fire for a video of a nurse who claimed she quit her job because she was not being protected from coronavirus concerns, before Internet sleuths found that the network may not have properly vetted the story.’
Fox News quoted tweets from Jordan Schachtel – a prominent writer for various right-wing media outlets – as claiming:
“So it turns out this video is entirely fraudulent.”
The New York Post also cast doubt on the veracity of the nurse’s claims and ran the headline: 
‘CBS questioned about video of nurse claiming she quit over lack of coronavirus masks’
However, there was no evidence cited in these reports to validate that the nurse’s claims were fraudulent.


But there then followed hundreds, possibly thousands, of Tweets and social media messages claiming that Imaris Vera was a liar; she wasn’t even a nurse; she didn’t work for the hospital; she suffered from bipolar so her claims didn’t count; she was really an actress; she’s flaky, don’t trust her; she just did it for Instagram hits; she hadn’t worked as a nurse for over a year.

Ms Vera says she subsequently received “massive amounts of death threats to myself and my family” and had to deactivate her social media accounts. 

But CBS News, the Daily Mail, and other news outlets that ran her original video and story have kept them online; they didn’t take them down, despite the many claims that these stories, and the video, were ‘entirely fraudulent’ and ‘fake’.


Imaris Vera is adamant that she’s not a fraud. “I still stand firm that nothing I said was a lie,” she asserted. 

She said last week:
“I have been a nurse for four years and worked in interventional radiology for a year-and-a-half, which is a different kind of nursing dealing with stroke, heart attack and stroke patients.”
Her contract in radiology ended last December, she explained, and she then returned to ICU nursing (intensive care units) in January. 

 Click to view clearly
The LinkedIn profile for Ms Vera describes her as a ‘travelling registered nurse’ with experience in ‘trauma, post-operative, cardiac, medical, surgical and full-critical nursing care.’

Her qualifications are shown as BSN (Bachelor of Science in Nursing) gained from Resurrection University in Chicago and RN (Registered Nurse). She is shown to be registered with Trusted Health, a nursing recruitment agency. 

Her last job cited on her online LinkedIn resume is described as ‘full-time travel registered nurse’ from January to March 2020 (three months) with Northwestern Medicine, Central Dupage Hospital based in Chicago.

Indeed, it’s from Northwestern Hospital that Imaris Vera claimed she quit her job on Monday 30 March.

I have been in email correspondence with Northwestern Medicine Hospital and they don’t dispute that Ms Vera was hired as a nurse and quit at the end of March. 


So, what happened on that fateful day on 30 March when Imaris Vera turned up for work at the Covid-19 ICU unit at Northwestern Hospital in Chicago?

In a clearly emotional and tearful state, she says on her video recorded when she got home:

“I quit my job today. 

“I wanted to work and I was assigned to a Covid patient in an ICU unit that had been converted to a designated Covid unit.

“None of the nurses are wearing masks, not even surgical masks, in the hallways when they’re giving reports to each other. 

“I had my own N95 mask. I told my manager I understand we’re short on supplies, but let me protect myself, let me feel safe. 

“I have family that I have to come home to, and the way things are looking, this isn’t going to get any better. 

“America is not prepared and nurses are not being protected.”

Ms Vera says she quit her job because she wanted to wear a protective mask, for her safety, when away from a Covid-19 patient, in the hallways outside the patient’s room. 

Her manager, however, wouldn’t allow this – even though Ms Vera had brought in her own N-95 mask for this purpose.


Some commentators have misquoted Ms Vera as claiming she said on the video that she wasn’t allowed to wear a mask when attending to a Covid-19 patient. 

This in part IS the fault of CBS News, who misrepresented Imaris Vera's video by reporting in their tweet:
In tears, a nurse says she quit her job after she was asked to work in a coronavirus ICU without a face mask.
But on listening to the video, it’s clear that isn’t what she said. She said that nurses were not wearing masks “in the hallways, when they’re giving reports to each other.”

Ms Vera has been open and honest about that. So, when Democrat Presidential candidate, Bernie Sanders, re-tweeted the CBS report on 5 April and commented:
“It is insane that our nurses are being forced to care for the sick without masks and respirators. The Department of Labor must immediately issue emergency workplace standards to protect our health workers, their family, and their patients.”
Ms Vera was quick to tweet back:
“Thank you so much for sharing Senator. We were each assigned 1 N95 mask per 1 covid patient’s room but was not allowed to wear it outside of the room, wear our own N95 mask around the Nurses station or Halls, which I came prepared with. HCPs (health care personnel) absolutely deserve protection by any means.”
But when CBS reported on her reply to Bernie Sanders, saying that Ms Vera had now ‘clarified her experience’, the news organisation, and the nurse, were suddenly deluged with online attacks, claiming that her ‘clarification’ must mean that her video was fake.

CBS also reported in a Tweet:
‘The hospital, Northwestern Medicine, acknowledged that Imaris Vera had quit her job, but referred CBS News to Vera as to the details of why.’
Again, somewhat perversely, this CBS tweet was cited as yet more ‘evidence’ that Nurse Vera’s video must be fake. 

And yet, anyone taking the time to look at the nurse’s video, and her online messages, can see that her testimony has remained consistent throughout.


On 7 April, I emailed Christopher King, Director of Media Relations and Communications at Northwestern Medicine Hospital to try and get to the bottom of this story. I wrote:

‘I’m a British journalist and want to check on some facts reported by various media regarding Imaris Vera. Can you please confirm the following for me?
  1. Was Imaris Vera a nurse at your hospital?
  2. Did she quit her job with you on Monday 30 March 2020 (or thereabouts)?
  3. Are you able to offer any comment or verification on the circumstances of her resignation?
  4. Can you please clarify your hospital’s policy on N95 masks for your nurses?
  5. Is it correct that nurses at your hospital are only provided with a mask when attending a Covid-19 patient, but not for other areas of the hospital?
  6. If nurses are not offered a hospital mask to wear in all areas of your hospital, is it correct that your hospital policy is NOT to allow nurses to bring their own masks to wear whilst in the hospital?
‘I do hope you can help me to report accurately on this story and I look forward to hearing back from you at your earliest convenience.’

Mr King emailed back to say:
‘Hi Jon, I just saw this tweet from CBS News updating this story. It seems her story has changed. What did she share with you?’
Attached to his email was a copy of the CBS report of Nurse Vera’s 'update’, saying that nurses at the hospital were given a mask when attending to a Covid-19 patient’s room, but not allowed to wear one when outside of the room.


I wrote back to Mr King on 7 April:

‘I am picking the information up from various news sources, which is why I needed clarification from you. Her update doesn’t seem entirely inconsistent from her video testimony, in which she makes clear that ‘none of the nurses are wearing masks in the hallways.’ She does not specifically say that nurses were not wearing masks when with a patient..’

I added:
‘To be fair, I am keen to report the hospital’s response, and shall be most grateful if you can answer the questions I have sent you. Might you be able to get a reply to me before your close of business today?’
When I didn’t get a reply, I wrote again to Mr King the next day:

‘Can you please advise me if your hospital will be providing answers to the questions I have raised?’

I then repeated my six questions and added:

‘I do want to give you every opportunity to give your hospital’s side of the story, but my article is scheduled to be published later today or tomorrow morning. 

‘It’s clear now that the answers to my first two questions are that Imaris Vera was a nurse at your hospital last month and that she quit on 30 March. This is now in the public domain, and will be included in my report, unless you write back immediately to explain that this was not the case.   

‘If you are unable to provide answers, I will still need to include the questions I have sent to your hospital in my report. 
‘I hope you agree that it will seem odd and reflect badly if your hospital is unable to offer answers to the open questions I have raised, especially regarding your hospital’s policy on masks for your nurses.’

At the close of business that day, I received this reply from Mr King:

‘Hi Jon,

‘Here is what I can tell you…

‘The health and safety of our employees, physicians, and patients is our highest priority. Since the outbreak of COVID-19, we have gone to extraordinary lengths to maintain an environment that protects everyone. 

‘We continue to follow the recommendations of the CDC for personal protection equipment and have been fortunate to date to secure sufficient personal protective equipment to do so. 

‘We update our guidance daily for caring for COVID-19 patients as it continues to evolve. We provide multiple channels for communication including a dedicated hot line so that our staff can ask questions and receive support. 

‘We are incredibly proud of the extraordinary work happening each day in our health system to care for our patients, our community and each other.’


Of course, this reply doesn’t answer any of my questions. It’s a most unsatisfactory and inadequate response, which reflects badly on the hospital, because they don’t want to offer any open and clear answers or explanations.

However, we can deduce from Mr King’s reply that 1) Imaris Vera was definitely a nurse at the hospital (otherwise his response would be to flatly deny that) and 2) the hospital’s protocol regarding face masks for nurses is not one they are willing to be transparent about.


Imaris Vera’s video testimony is credible because what she claims is the same as so many other nurses right across the USA as a direct result of the coronavirus crisis.

There are multiple stories during this pandemic of nurses at USA hospitals quitting or being disciplined because they were not allowed to wear, or bring their own, protective face masks.

Indeed, The Joint Commission, an American non-profit organisation that accredits more than 22,000 US health care organizations and programs, reported:
‘We are receiving reports from across the country that some hospitals are prohibiting staff from bringing in their own N95 respirators, surgical masks, and home-made cloth masks.’
The Commission pointed out:
‘A recent study provided strong evidence that there is significant risk of transmission of SARS-CoV-2 among asymptomatic or minimally symptomatic patients.’
Consequently, the Commission’s recommendation is that:
‘Based on this information, it is reasonable for staff to want to wear a mask throughout the day.’
‘The Joint Commission supports allowing staff to bring their own masks or respirators to wear at work when their healthcare organizations cannot provide them with adequate protection commensurate with the risk of infection to which they are exposed by the nature of their work.’

Commented Megan Ranney, associate professor of emergency medicine at Brown University, Rhode Island:
“I have heard multiple anecdotes from colleagues in other states who report they were personally disciplined or lectured when seen wearing procedural masks in the halls of their hospitals.”
She added:
“Yes, we should absolutely be able to wear procedural masks outside of patient rooms. We are all potential sources of infection and protecting our healthcare workforce is critical.”
Added Elaine Yeung, chief of medicine at Scarborough Health Network, Canada:
“Doctors and nurses won’t feel safe to work in hospitals without autonomy to wear face masks throughout the hospital.”

The complaint by Imaris Vera against Northwestern Hospital regarding face masks is not the only one by a nurse there. 

Lauri Mazurkiewicz, a nurse at Northwestern’s Memorial Hospital, says she was fired last month for whistle-blowing that the hospital’s masks were not adequate against Covid-19.

She complained that the hospital was only issuing her infectious diseases department with regular surgical masks, rather than the N95 masks that offer better protection against the coronavirus.

Ms Mazurkiewicz warned her co-workers of the problem and announced that she planned to use her own N95 mask, but she was then immediately fired. 

She is currently suing the hospital for unlawful dismissal. 

UPDATE: Ironically, Northwestern Medicine in Chicago is desperately calling for the public to donate items of equipment to the hospital during the coronavirus pandemic, most especially N-95 face masks. Maybe the hospital should not have been so quick to disallow Imaris Vera to wear her own N95 face mask when the hospital clearly didn't have enough to go around. 


I have done my best to provide a balanced and fair account of the known facts and evidence in this case. If more relevant information comes to light, I will add it to the story. 

Readers can come to their own conclusions based on the evidence, most of which is already in the public domain.

But this is my verdict:
Instead of attacking a healthcare system in America for its failure to properly protect nurses and doctors working at the front line of the Covid-19 pandemic, nurse Imaris Vera is being unfairly and viciously attacked online – alongside death threats – simply for speaking up about poor safety conditions at her hospital. 
Shame on those who tried to blur and cover up the real story here. If health workers are not adequately protected, who will be left to care for us when we become ill?

 Imaris Vera's tearful video about why she quit her job at Northwestern Hospital:



▪ PLEASE NOTE: I am currently offering my community journalism here for free. I derive no earnings or funding from this, and certainly no income from clicks or advertising. My motivation is to report verifiable facts, regardless of whether I like those facts or not.
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