By Jon King/

A petition with more than a quarter-million signatures has been sent to Congress demanding regulations to keep health care workers safe as they treat COVID-19 patients.

Nurses say they need filtering respirators to keep them safe from infection by the novel coronavirus. But facing a national shortage of masks, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has downgraded the minimum level of recommended protection twice. Ken Zinn, political director at National Nurses United, said Congress needs to intervene.

"We need an OSHA temporary emergency standard that will tell hospitals they have to have the highest level of personal protective equipment that will actually do the job of keeping health care workers safe," Zinn said.

He said the CDC has told hospitals it is permissible for health care workers to wear surgical masks, bandanas or scarves when treating suspected or confirmed COVID-19 patients. Zinn called the CDC's downgraded recommendations absurd.

"Scarves, bandanas, surgical masks; none of them keep front-line health care workers safe," he said. "What you need is an N95 respirator which have filters in them to keep out the most minute particles, and many hospitals are not providing them."

He said some hospitals that have N95 masks are not giving them to health care workers treating COVID-19 patients because the CDC doesn't require them to. Zinn noted that failure to supply adequate personal protective equipment puts health care workers, their families and the growing number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 at risk.

"If they get sick or they're exposed to COVID-19 patients, then they're going to be forced into quarantine," he said. "And who will be left to take care of the rest of us?"

Those concerns are echoes by the Michigan Nurses Association, which said it's also seeing hospitals with shortages of protective equipment, but more disturbingly, also a lack of policies protecting nurses and other front-line workers, along with unclear procedures for how to deal with patients exposed to or infected with COVID-19.

Zinn said the latest House version of the COVID-19 stimulus package had a provision that would require protections for health care workers, but the Senate version did not.

Public News Service assisted with this report.