With Covid infection numbers exploding and pediatric hospitalizations at all-time highs, National Nurses United RNs call for schools to offer remote learning to protect nation’s children
With Covid-19 infection numbers, fueled by the highly transmissible Omicron variant, reaching all-time records in the United States and pediatric hospitalization rates skyrocketing in recent weeks, National Nurses United today urged all school districts and policy makers to offer remote learning as an option for families who don’t want their students to return to in-person learning.
“We always advise people to practice physical distancing in order to avoid infection, but schoolchildren are actually required to gather in large groups every day,” said Martha Kuhl, a pediatric RN and secretary treasurer of NNU, the largest union and professional association of registered nurses in the United States. “The responsible thing to do to protect them is to provide an alternative to in-person school through remote learning until we get this surge under better control.”
In addition to Omicron, pediatric nurses warn that schoolchildren are battling a whole host of serious viruses this winter, including influenza, Covid-19 Delta variants, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), and other upper respiratory infections.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, new hospital admissions for kids with Covid-19 rose 66 percent in just the past week to 378 per day — record highs since the pandemic began in January 2020.
Nurses advocate that public health decisions — such as reopening schools in person — be driven by the precautionary principle. The precautionary principle asserts that we should not wait for scientific proof of harm before taking action to protect people’s health. Better safe than sorry.
Right now, there are many unanswered questions about the virus that causes Covid-19 and how it impacts children, especially long term. What we do know is that children can be infected and can transmit the virus to others. Bringing people together in enclosed spaces, without the robust public health infrastructure nurses have called for since the beginning of this pandemic, will undoubtedly increase the spread of the virus, impacting our children, their families, their caregivers, teachers and other school workers, and ultimately our communities.
Nurses continue to call for a multiple-measures approach in all settings to infection control, which has been scientifically proven most effective at curbing Covid-19 transmission. These tested and effective public and workplace infection control measures that the entire country must be implementing now include continued universal masking and increasing vaccination numbers, robust and routine testing, proper isolation, contact tracing and notification, proper quarantining, ventilation, social distancing, and diligent hygiene. For nurses and other health care workers, employers must also provide optimal, single-use PPE and safe staffing levels. These measures are equally as important for other settings that employ essential workers, including retail, grocery, food industry, and more.
Nurses call on the government and employers to prioritize public health by meeting the following criteria:
Public health infrastructure must be strengthened to include sufficient staffing, supplies, and space for robust surveillance, testing, case isolation, and contact tracing to ensure that the virus is effectively contained.
Basic human needs must be met. People in America must have enhanced unemployment benefits and paid sick time and family leave; food security; housing; health care; and other social supports for people who are unemployed or unable to work due to illness or quarantine and isolation measures.
Health care capacity must be expanded, and people must be able to get treatment they need if they contract COVID-19 — at no cost. Any vaccine developed with U.S. taxpayer dollars must also be provided to the U.S. public for free when needed.
Nurses and other health care workers must have the optimal personal protective equipment (PPE) they need, including powered air-purifying respirators, coveralls that incorporate head coverings and shoe coverings, and gloves.
CDC, WHO, OSHA guidelines and standards must be strengthened. The SARS-CoV-2 virus is transmitted through the air. Nurses demand that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization strengthen their guidelines accordingly. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) must also issue a permanent standard for infectious diseases to mandate that health care employers provide protections needed for Covid-19. NNU in recent weeks opposed the CDC’s shortening of isolation guidance for exposed and infected workers from 10 to five days, pointing out that the change was not based on science and does not follow the precautionary principle to take the safer route in the absence of scientific proof of harm. Nurses demand the CDC return to the former isolation guidance.
Health care capacity and preparedness must focus on human need, not profit. This pandemic has exposed underlying problems in our society, and has illuminated the damage done by economic policies that benefit our money-driven health care system, instead of human beings. Nurses have seen health care services for communities of color shuttered in recent months, as wealthy hospital corporations use Covid-19 as an excuse to close less profitable services. Nurses say the health care needs of all patients must be a priority before states can reopen.
The Covid-19 pandemic has shown the world in the starkest terms that the health of every individual is connected to the health of another, and this includes all our schoolchildren. Nurses know that public health must be prioritized as we work to protect our communities.
National Nurses United is the largest union and professional organization of registered nurses in the United States, with more than 175,000 members nationwide.