OSHA permanent standard on Covid moves forward another step

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Three nurses hold signs calling on OSHA to enact permanent protections against Covid-19

By Chuleenan Svetvilas

National Nurse Magazine - Oct | Nov | Dec 2022 Issue

National Nurses United (NNU) applauded the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) for sending its Covid-19 permanent standard to the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) at the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for review in early December, and urged OIRA to complete its review promptly so the standard can be issued without delay. A permanent standard would require employers to protect nurses and other health care workers from occupational exposure to Covid-19.

“Protecting nurses and other health care workers is of paramount importance as we face an increase in Covid-19 hospitalizations, in addition to high and increasing influenza and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) hospitalizations,” said NNU President Deborah Burger, RN. “We applaud OSHA for fulfilling its commitment to issue a permanent standard for health care workers, and we strongly urge OIRA to complete its review of the permanent standard as quickly as possible. The pandemic is not over. We need a permanent standard to ensure that health care employers will protect all health care workers so they can do their jobs safely and so patients can get the care that they need.”

The Covid-19 pandemic is not over. New, more immune-evasive variants, such as BQ1/1.1, BF.7, and XBB, continue to circulate; bivalent booster vaccination rates are extremely low; and few public health measures remain in place. Covid-19 hospitalizations have increased by 29 percent and four states have seen triple-digit percent increases in the two-week period after Thanksgiving. Nurses, other health care workers, and their patients remain at risk of Covid exposure, infection, illness, and death because their employers continue to fail to fully protect them. NNU’s December 2022 survey of more than 2,800 nurses in 46 states and the District of Columbia found that only 66 percent of nurses report wearing a respirator for every encounter with a Covid-positive patient, even though it is scientifically clear that Covid-19 is airborne and respiratory protection is required. Only 34 percent of nurses report that they are informed of Covid exposures in a timely fashion, even though prompt testing and isolation are essential to preventing transmission.

“As of Dec. 7, more than 5,500 health care workers have died of Covid, including nearly 500 nurses,” said Burger. “And many nurses continue to experience the devastating impacts of long Covid. This is why we need a permanent standard and why we must continue to maintain multiple measures of infection control, including masking, vaccinations, testing, ventilation, contact tracing and notification, proper isolation, and quarantining. We’re all in this together.”

The permanent Covid standard should include the following protections: screening and testing of patients, visitors, and health care workers; isolation of patients with suspected or confirmed Covid; optimal personal protective equipment for health care workers caring for patients with suspected or confirmed Covid, including powered air-purifying respirators, isolation gowns, and gloves; exposure notification for health care workers; and paid leave for health care workers who are exposed to or infected with Covid.

Chuleenan Svetvilas is a communications specialist at National Nurses United.