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Nurses Unions Protest Weakened CDC COVID-19 Guidelines

March 11, 2020 (EIRNS)—Today, the California Nurses Association (CNA), the National Nurses Organizing Committee (NNOC), and National Nurses United (NNU) are holding a day of action to protest their anger over weakening of guidelines for response to the COVID-19 epidemic, announced the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) yesterday.

According to a press release issued by the three nursing organizations, the CDC’s weakened guidelines include rolling back personal protective equipment (PPE) standards from N95 masks to allow simple surgical masks; not requiring suspected or confirmed COVID-19 patients to be placed in negative-pressure isolation rooms at all times; and weakening protections for healthcare workers collecting diagnostic respiratory specimens.

“These are moves that National Nurses United nurses say will gravely endanger nurses, healthcare workers, patients, and our communities,” an NNU press release warns. The day of action will protest the “ineffective employer and government response to COVID-19 and demand protections now,” and include a warning from Bonnie Castillo, RN and CNA/NNOC and NNU executive director, that “if nurses and healthcare workers aren’t protected, that means patients and the public are not protected.”

The American Federation of Teachers, the Transport Workers Union of America, and about a dozen other unions are also up in arms over the CDC’s revamped guidelines, particularly that which replaces the specialized N95 masks with ordinary surgical masks.

“We are strongly opposed to any measures that fail to provide optimal protection and infection control standards,” union representatives had written in a March 6 letter to CDC officials. The unions are opposed to these changes, they said, because emerging disease like COVID-19 “pose an occupational hazard for workers on the front lines, especially healthcare workers.”

The Washington Post reported that the CDC’s new guidance is due to a shortage of the N95 masks, and the fact that “the supply chain of respirators cannot meet demand and that looser fitting surgical face masks are an acceptable alternative.”

The more commonly worn surgical masks will limit—but not eliminate—the chance of inhaling large, infectious particles circulating near the face. Until March 10, the CDC had recommended that healthcare workers interacting with coronavirus patients or suspected cases wear N95 respirators, along with gowns, gloves, and eye protectors. The N95 filters must be custom-fitted and are more expensive than surgical masks. The bean counters at work.

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