Registered nurses who are members of National Nurses United, protest in front of the White House on Tuesday. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

A group of registered nurses rallied outside the White House Tuesday to read out the names of colleagues killed by the novel coronavirus and demand the mass production of personal protective equipment.

Why it matters: Medical institutions and governments are scrambling to stretch limited inventories amid a PPE shortage. The National Nurses United, the largest nurses union in the U.S., of which the protesting nurses are members, said in a statement "tens of thousands of health care workers nationwide" were infected with COVID-19 because of a lack of PPE.

What they're saying: The nurses want President Trump to use the Defense Production Act (DPA) to order the mass production of PPE, including N95 respirators, face shields, gowns, gloves and shoe coverings, along with ventilators and COVID-19 testing kits.

  • The NNU is calling on Congress to mandate the DPA's use to "produce the equipment and supplies health care workers need to care for COVID-19 patients as well as to conduct mass testing that is required to control the spread of the virus," the union's statement said.

The big picture: Essential personnel need an estimated 3.5 billion N95 masks. Companies from fashion and tech industries have stepped up to manufacture masks.

  • Trump appointed White House trade adviser Peter Navarro to enforce the DPA after the president authorized the use of the act to direct General Motors to build ventilators for coronavirus patients.
  • The White House has used the DPA to order Minnesota mask manufacturer 3M to prioritize U.S. orders over those from Canada and Latin America.
  • Trump has used the DPA for FEMA and the Department of Homeland Security to prevent what he calls "wartime profiteers" from buying, hoarding and exporting medical equipment and protective gear.

Go deeper: The desperate hunt for coronavirus personal protective equipment

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