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Covid-19 nurses

Members of National Nurses United read the names of nurses who have died—represented by empty pairs of shoes—during the Covid-19 pandemic at a demonstration in front of the White House on May 12, 2021. (Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Unions Demand Covid-19 Safety Measures for Health Workers Be Made Permanent

"OSHA must act swiftly to extend lifesaving protections for health care workers and to create new Covid-19 safety rules for all workers."

Brett Wilkins

More than 40 labor unions and advocacy organizations representing over 14 million employees issued a petition this week demanding that the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration permanently adopt Covid-19 protection standards—which are set to expire next week—for healthcare and other frontline workers.

The petition calls on OSHA to extend and expand the emergency temporary standard (ETS) enacted in June, with an expiration date of December 21. It says, in part:

Unfettered, widespread transmission has resulted in and will continue to result in the evolution and spread of new variants of concern, such as Omicron. I am urging OSHA not to let the hard-won Covid-19 protections in the ETS end—especially as we learn more about the latest variant.

Letting these protections expire without adopting a permanent standard would mean more transmission of the virus, more hospitalizations, and more deaths from Covid-19.The adoption of a permanent OSHA standard on Covid-19 in healthcare workplaces should be built on current ETS requirements, the precautionary principle, and updated scientific knowledge of the virus.

Earlier this year, an investigation by Kaiser Health News and The Guardian found that more than 3,600 U.S. healthcare workers had died of Covid-19, with nurses accounting for over 1,200 of those fatalities.

"The Covid-19 healthcare ETS helped ensure safe working conditions for frontline healthcare workers by mandating optimal [personal protective equipment] and other protections, but now we need to make these lifesaving protections permanent," NNU executive director Bonnie Castillo said in a statement. "We must ensure that nurses and other healthcare workers can protect patients and protect themselves."

"Nurses in hospitals in a large swath of states are once again being overwhelmed by Covid-19 patients and it is critical that the vital protections instituted last June are not allowed to lapse," she continued. "This is essential to protect frontline caregivers and to ensure that our hospitals do not become disease vectors."

Marcy Goldstein-Gelb, co-executive director of the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health (National COSH) said that "OSHA must act swiftly to extend lifesaving protections for health care workers and to create new Covid-19 safety rules for all workers."

"We're facing a highly contagious new variant and hospitals in many communities are again overwhelmed with Covid-19," she added. "We can't afford to let our guard down, because workers and families still face grave risk from a deadly infectious disease."

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