As we approach the seventh month of the latest pandemic to wreak havoc and death across all societies, it beggars belief that many world and national leaders have acted surprised at the speed and destructive efficiency of COVID‐19. Nurses are not surprised by the level of misery and devastation that infectious diseases can cause. We have seen it all before. In every outbreak through history, nurses have responded to the dangers that direct engagement with such crises entails. The inherent risks nurses face in controlling potentially fatal pathogens are compounded by flaccid public policy and incompetent management, resulting in poorly resourced preparedness for the epidemics and pandemics that routinely punctuate our history. That nurses are repeatedly placed in such precarious work environments is an indictment on all involved. Over time, nurses responding to populations in crisis have learned not to rely too heavily on those occupying leadership positions for front‐line resources and protection or even early warnings or open disclosure about contagion risk, case numbers and outcomes. Once the danger has passed, the usual public expressions of gratitude for nurses who put themselves in harm’s way to help victims of these catastrophes seem to fade, amid hasty efforts to consolidate policies, processes and hierarchies back to the same settings that allowed the current crisis to flourish. So far in this pandemic, an unconfirmed number of nurses and other health workers have either died usually as a result of their involvement with infectious patients or become infected themselves. Data collection on this is haphazard at best, with nurse deaths absorbed within the aggregated morbidity data reported on during pandemics. This is despite nurses being the prominent professional workforce providing crucial front‐line interventions to protect public health. It is time nurses involved themselves with the overdue reformation of public health policies, information management and health systems that would seek to return nurses to precarious work environments and trivialize foreseeable risks to us, our communities and patients.