Anna Jones* had just finished her shift at St. Rose Hospital in Las Vegas, where she works as an emergency-room nurse, when she received an email from her landlord labeled “Quick Action Needed.” Her landlord—a quiet, older woman who lived downstairs from Jones and her husband—informed her that she would need to vacate the premises within 24 hours. The reason, she said, was COVID-19.
“I don’t want interaction or debate over this decision,” the landlord wrote in emails reviewed by The Daily Beast. “I’m sorry for the abrupt notice, but given the situation, it’s the choice I’m making to protect myself.”
“Honestly, it’s devastating,” Jones told The Daily Beast this week. “I was just really heartbroken and just felt like, ‘How could somebody treat me like this, all because I’m a nurse?’”
Kadey Carter, a travel nurse in Missouri, told The Daily Beast that multiple Airbnb hosts had canceled her reservations in recent weeks after learning she was a nurse. “They’re apologetic but they’re just like, ‘basically for our protection right now, we’re not comfortable with that,’” she said.
Around the country, nurses like Jones and Carter—who are fighting the epidemic with little protective gear and at great risk to themselves—are being booted from their homes by property owners who fear they may bring the new coronavirus home with them.
In interviews with The Daily Beast, multiple nurses described potential landlords backing out of rental agreements, Airbnb hosts denying their requests, and current proprietors turning them out on the street. The Daily Beast is using pseudonyms or not identifying some of them because they are still in negotiations with their landlords.
“Honestly, I have never felt scared to be a nurse until this happened,” said one nurse in New Hampshire. “We love what we do, we just want to be able to do it without worrying about where we will lay our heads.”
Jones has been a nurse for four years. She started working as a travel nurse nine months ago, picking up temporary contracts at different hospitals to meet shifting demand. Doing so has allowed her to travel the country, but has also meant subletting on short notice and a modest salary—something that was difficult even before the epidemic hit.
Jones worked shifts in North Carolina and Florida before taking a three-month position in Las Vegas. When she signed the lease on a shared home in February, it felt like a perfect fit. Her landlord did not drive, so Jones and her husband often went grocery shopping for her. When the older woman started a special diet, Jones’ husband made her vegetable stock. With Jones' long shifts and the landlord’s bustling work-from-home schedule, the two rarely ran into each other.
But when the COVID-19 outbreak hit, Jones said, things changed. Her landlord started talking about the risks of Jones’ occupation. She blocked off certain hours in the kitchen for her own use, and set strict rules for how shared items should be cleaned. Then, on March 21, she dropped the bombshell.
In emails, the landlord told Jones and her husband they had until 7 p.m. the next day to get all of their belongings out of the house. “I don't want interaction or debate over this decision,” she wrote. “I'm sorry for the abrupt notice, but given the situation, it's the choice I'm making to protect myself.”
When Jones tried to push back, the landlord threatened to change the locks and hold her belongings hostage. “Items still in this unit after 7 pm on Mar 22 will be in a trespassing status and you will forfeit. I will not be bullied or intimidated,” she wrote. “Neither work with me. “
Three other travel nurses told The Daily Beast they had also been threatened with eviction because of their occupation, while others said they had been discriminated against when applying for housing.
One nurse in San Diego said she was away last weekend when her landlord texted, ordering her to move out immediately. She was allowed back in only to retrieve her belongings. Another nurse in New Hampshire received a similar text from her landlord just after finishing a 16-hour shift. “I cried in my car when I read that,” she said, “because I’m like, ‘What in the world am I going to do?’”
A travel nurse working outside Sacramento said she received a similar message, though her landlord backed down when she threatened legal action. But others said they did not have the energy—or even the desire—to argue with the person renting them a room.
“I don’t want to fight it with her,” the San Diego nurse said of her landlord. “I don’t want to add to her fear, because she’s already being terrorized and fearmongered all day by the news.
“Also, I don’t have the emotional bandwidth to live in a hostile environment,” she added. “Because our stress levels at work are exponential to what they were two weeks ago.”
The San Diego nurse was able to find replacement housing, though at a significantly higher rate than her original room. Others were not so lucky. Several nurses said they struggled to find anyone willing to open their homes on such short notice, in the midst of a pandemic.
One travel nurse in Hawaii said she was about to drop off a lease agreement when the landlord called and said she had reconsidered. Jones and her husband are currently living in a hotel, looking for somewhere else to stay. Her landlord has also yet to return her security deposit or her unused March rent, making it difficult to put down a deposit on another place.
At least one person—the nurse in New Hampshire—was unable to find housing and said she will be forced to end her hospital contract early.
“We’re being seen as walking Petri dishes,” she said, adding later: “While we’re looking out and taking care of other people, who’s taking care of us?”
Several of the landlords involved were elderly, and some had underlying health conditions, making them more susceptible to the virus. All of the nurses said they understood the fear that motivated their landlords’ decisions. But they also expressed concern about what would happen if other property owners followed suit.
“These are the same people who are going to take care of you if you wind up in the hospital, or god forbid the ICU,” the Hawaii nurse said. “And if I’m sleeping in my car, I’m not functioning my best.”
“If you want people to help, they have to have a place to live,” she added.
Carter also pointed out the irony in accusing health-care professionals of spreading disease, noting that they have more training than the average person in how to prevent contagion. Several of the nurses said they carry hand wipes and hand sanitizer with them at all times, and the New Hampshire nurse said she stashed 70 percent alcohol in her car, just in case.
“I get it,” she said. “My son is asthmatic. But there has to be some sensitivity and some sense of humanity.”
Around the world, health-care workers have reported growing harassment and discrimination since the coronavirus crisis started. A top administrator at the Royal College of Nursing recently tweeted about British nurses being heckled, verbally abused, and called “disease spreaders” on the street. The Japanese Association for Disaster Medicine (JDAM) has also called on the public to stop harassing health-care workers, after receiving dozens of reports of providers being treated “unbelievably unfairly.”
“This should be considered a human rights issue,” the association said. “We strongly protest and demand that the situation be rectified.”
Jones said it felt like health-care workers in the U.S. were being treated “like second-class citizens.” She pointed to social media reports of health-care workers being spit at, or even punched, for wearing their scrubs outside of work.
“We’re hearing from a lot of people, ‘Oh, well this is what you chose to do, so just suck it up’” she said. “So that’s a reason for people to not show human decency?”
The San Diego nurse, meanwhile, said she worried that this behavior would only get worse as the virus spread. Watching a grocery store clerk ring her up one night, she started wondering when food services workers would start getting evicted as well.
“If it’s happening to us, it’s only a matter of time before they’re thrown out of their housing situation,” she said. “And that’s a real concern, because they don't have the [financial] buffer."
Activists have already started protesting the Trump administration’s 60-day freeze on foreclosures and evictions, saying it is not enough to protect the lowest-income Americans from losing their housing. Advocates are now arguing for a national moratorium for the duration of the crisis, as well as federal funding for rent freezes. But it is unclear what—if any—assistance this would give to health-care workers being pressured out of their home.
Asked if she had a message for the public, Jones said simply, “Please be kind.”
“I’m exposed to something [new] every day and nobody makes a big deal out of it,” she said. “So then to just turn around and be treated like this because of some fear about a pandemic, it’s just not right.”
“We don't take these risks because of an ethical duty,” she added. “We do it because it’s what we do every time we walk in the doors of an emergency department.”
*Anna Jones is a pseudonym