The AFL-CIO and nurses’ unions around the country petitioned a Court of Appeals to make a temporary standard protecting healthcare workers permanent.

The AFL-CIO, National Nurses United (NNU) and other unions petitioned the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to make a temporary Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) rule requiring healthcare employees to protect their workers against COVID on the job.

Bonnie Castillo, RN, National Nurses United executive director, stated that OSHA needs to get to work as soon as possible to protect American workers.

“OSHA is charged with ensuring that employers create and maintain safe workplaces, and this delay in issuing a permanent standard puts the lives of nurses and other healthcare workers, patients, and our communities, in jeopardy,” said Castillo. “We have seen far too many of our fellow nurses die during this pandemic. As of today, we have recorded the deaths of 476 nurse deaths from COVID. Going to work should not mean putting your life and the lives of your loved ones in danger.

“It is time for OSHA to issue a permanent standard and protect nurses and healthcare workers who are on the front lines working to save the lives of others.”

The temporary standard mandated that employers strongly encourage their workers to get vaccinated. Now, OSHA expects employers to work in good faith with employers and handle COVID.

In June, when OSHA officials issued the temporary stay, it was noted that as of late May, the CDC tallied 491,816 healthcare workers who had contracted COVID resulting in 1,611 deaths. By the end of 2021, 803,454 healthcare workers contracted COVID resulting in 3,063 deaths.

In early November, that rule was extended to private businesses. That extension, according to OSHA officials, protected more than 84 million workers from the spread of the coronavirus on the job.

In a statement, AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler, whose union is a part of the petition, wanted to remind the public, and OSHA, that the fight against COVID-19 isn’t over.

“We are still in the midst of a deadly pandemic, and healthcare workers are facing dangerous exposures to COVID-19 and need the strongest possible protections in their workplaces,” said Shuler. “We must treat the surge in new cases as the crisis that it is. That means retaining and enforcing the emergency standards originally set by OSHA. COVID-19 hospitalizations have increased nearly sixfold in the last six months. In the face of the Omicron variant, it is not the time to roll back protections, but to fully enforce and make them permanent.

“We have no choice but to turn to the courts to ensure that our healthcare workers are protected as they provide such critical care throughout this pandemic.”

Recently, the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention issued new guidance for quarantining healthcare workers. According to the CDC, healthcare workers who contract COVID-19 but are asymptomatic can come back to work after 7 days with a negative test. Also, healthcare workers who have been vaccinated with a booster, but still contract COVID-19, don’t have to quarantine once exposed.

“As the healthcare community prepares for an anticipated surge in patients due to Omicron, CDC is updating our recommendations to reflect what we know about infection and exposure in the context of vaccination and booster doses,” said CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky, in a statement. “Our goal is to keep healthcare personnel and patients safe, and to address and prevent undue burden on our healthcare facilities. Our priority, remains prevention—and I strongly encourage all healthcare personnel to get vaccinated and boosted.”

AFSCME President Lee Saunders stated that healthcare workers should be treated just like they were treated at the beginning of the pandemic.

“Nurses and healthcare workers are the heroes who got us through the worst of the pandemic—but we’re not through with COVID-19 yet,” said Saunders. “Just this week, the U.S. hit a record single-day number of COVID-19 cases: over 1 million. Now is not the time for OSHA to remove the lifesaving protections that have allowed those in our healthcare settings to do their essential work safely and effectively.

“To save lives and protect our frontline heroes, OSHA must not rescind the emergency temporary standard and instead promulgate a permanent healthcare standard to protect the lives and health of millions of nurses and other healthcare workers in grave danger from the deadly COVID-19 pandemic,” continued Saunders.

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