Local nurses held a protest this week to highlight their concerns over access to COVID tests. Photos by Brennon Dixson.

Local nurses rallied outside of a Santa Monica COVID-19 testing site Tuesday to demand timely access to testing after UCLA officials recently announced a plan to test all students, faculty and staff but not its healthcare workers.

The registered nurses voiced their displeasure with the university and its policies at a press conference while residents drove up to receive COVID tests of their own, which is a luxury that is not readily available to registered nurses, according to members of the California Nurses Association.

People who visit UCLA’s campus at least once a week, except for those who work for UCLA Health, will have to schedule weekly COVID-19 tests, according to an Oct. 22 campuswide email from Michael Beck, the administrative vice chancellor, Monroe Gorden Jr., the vice chancellor for student affairs and Michael Levine, the vice chancellor for academic personnel. The testing is mandatory for students, faculty and staff who regularly visit campus for classes and work or live in university housing. And it’s been recommended that students living near campus who are not subject to mandatory testing get tested weekly anyway.

“In the new policy, should a campus member test positive – isolation and contact tracing protocols will be implemented immediately. Unfortunately, this new policy excludes UCLA healthcare workers such as me,” said Paul Ksendz, registered nurse intensive care unit.

“While we approve UCLA’s efforts to push forward a robust contact tracing program on the campus site and an accessible testing program for campus members, as registered nurses we are appalled by the university’s position to exclude UCLA Healthcare workers,” and implement a similar plan on its hospital campuses, Ksendz added as he critiqued the university’s failure to implement tracking techniques and the fact workers are still having to recycle personal protective equipment.

Aqueelah Tillman works in the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center’s neonatal Intensive Care Unit, which sometimes receives patients who are COVID-positive. Tillman said her peers have not only had to treat these patients but nurses have been directed to work even if they themselves are experiencing mild symptoms of the novel Coronavirus.

“For example, one of our colleagues reported to the university that they have COVID symptoms (including) fever and muscle aches. The nurse was tested for COVID-19 by UCLA because they presented symptoms and their test came back negative.” But that later turned out to be a false negative, Tillman said Tuesday. Despite having mild symptoms, the nurse was told to return to work, where she presented symptoms again a few days later. However, she was unable to get tested because all nurses must call UCLA’s COVID hotline to receive permission to get tested.

“When the affected nurse called the hotline. The request to be retested for COVID-19 was denied,” Tillman said. “They told the nurse that she had to wait four weeks before getting retested for COVID-19, despite having COVID-19 symptoms. The nurse was disappointed by the university’s refusal to test her so she decided to go to urgent care to get tested, which later confirmed she was positive for COVID-19.

As she continued to detail the hurdles faced by hospital staff since the beginning of the pandemic, Tillman said in conclusion, “The moral of the story is that UCLA is not doing everything possible to protect (workers)” and it must do better with its contact-tracing efforts.

Brennon@smdp.com