By Curtis Skinner and Kia Johnson SAN FRANCISCO/WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Thousands of nurses across the United States staged protest rallies and strikes on Wednesday over what they say is insufficient protection for health workers dealing with patients possibly stricken with the deadly Ebola virus. California-based National Nurses United had expected about 100,000 nurses nationwide to participate in the protest, but officials from the union could not say on Wednesday afternoon how many people took part. The union is embroiled in contract talks with the operators of nearly 90 California hospitals and clinics, and one hospital in Washington, D.C. About 19,000 nurses who on Tuesday began a two-day strike against those California facilities were part of the Ebola measures protest, which in other parts of the country did not involve nurses walking off the job. Healthcare provider Kaiser Permanente, which operates most of the California facilities where the nurses were striking, has accused the union of using Ebola as a pretext to justify labor action. The nurses are pressing hospitals to buy hazardous materials suits which leave no skin exposed, as well as powered air-purifying respirators, to properly protect nurses from exposure, and they are calling for more training to handle patients suspected of having Ebola. "The best way to protect our community is to protect our nurses," said Evan Brost, a nurse who joined more than 30 people in a protest outside the White House over Ebola measures. Elsewhere, protests took place in Chicago, Oakland, and outside the offices of some state governors, said National Nurses United Executive Director Rose Ann DeMoro. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says it has ordered $2.7 million worth of personal protective equipment to help hospitals care for Ebola patients, but union officials contend that is not enough. A CDC spokeswoman declined to comment on the protest. Representatives from Kaiser Permanente and the American Hospital Association could not be reached for comment on Wednesday. The last U.S. patient being treated for Ebola recovered from the disease on Tuesday. The Ebola epidemic has killed nearly 5,000 people in West Africa but only one person, a Liberian native, has died in the United States. Two nurses who treated the man at a Dallas hospital contracted Ebola but recovered. Medical experts say Ebola can be transmitted only through the bodily fluids of a sick person with symptoms. (This story has been refiled to correct day of week in paragraph 2) (Reporting by Curtis Skinner in San Francisco and Kia Johnson in Washington; Writing by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Gareth Jones and Eric Walsh)
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