Prominent scientists call on the CDC to better protect workers from Covid

A prominent group of academics is pressuring the Biden administration to move faster and take stronger action to protect workers at high risk of exposure to airborne coronavirus, calling for applicable standards that help protect risky jobs, including health care, food processing and prisons.

Researchers say that although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recognized that the virus can spread through tiny particles in the air, it must take “strong current” measures to update its guidelines to reduce risk.

“This is an opportunity now,” said David Michaels, a professor at George Washington University and former director of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Changes that would help reduce the spread of the virus could include wider use of N95 masks in the workplace, as well as better ventilation, a letter to the CDC said Monday.

Among the high-profile signatories is Rick Bright, who was removed from the Trump administration after he demanded that more attention be paid to science; Michael Osterholm, advisor to Biden’s transition team; and aerosol from Virginia Tech Linsey Marr.

The CDC’s current guidelines reflect the country’s initial supply chain crisis, which has been largely mitigated, the letter said. They also do not recognize months of research that has shown an increased risk faced by core workers in several industries.

The letter criticizes current guidelines that say those who are not from health care should not receive N95 masks, and that even within health care those masks should be reserved for workers doing “aerosol-generating” procedures such as intubation.

Yet, since those guidelines were written, research has shown that deadly attacks have occurred in meat processing plants and prisons, believed to be at play with aerosol spreads. And as part of health care, researchers have found that “front door” staff like paramedics and those in emergency services face the highest risk of infection.

“It really bothers me that healthcare workers and core workers who need this extra level of protection have been through so long with crisis standards of care and without adequate … respiratory protection,” Bright said in an interview.

An even more recent study that painfully examined the appearance of Covid-19 in September at a Boston hospital with “mature” infection control practices found that health technicians caught the virus from a patient while wearing surgical masks and face shields – common personal protective equipment for healthcare professionals. care for Covid patients. The finding prompted the authors to suggest wider use of N95 in hospitals.

KHN and The Guardian write about hundreds of more than 3,400 health workers who died from Covid for the “Lost at the Front” project. The families of many workers expressed concern about PPE in at least 100 cases, and many others were unaware of what the loved one was wearing. Workers ‘complaints to government officials about protective equipment, one of a series of stories, preceded workers’ deaths in dozens of cases.

Jane Thomason, a leading industrial hygienist at National Nurses United, who was not included in the letter, welcomed its contents and said it reflected many of the nurses ’concerns over the past year.

To add to the list of concerns, Thomason said the CDC guidelines do not reflect research showing that pre-symptomatic and asymptomatic spread of the virus is common.

Current guidelines for hospitals to examine only patients with Covid-like symptoms mean that many who have the virus are trapped and placed under the care of suboptimal protective workers. Thomason said the solutions would include universal patient testing and the provision of N95 as minimum hospital respiratory protection.

“The crisis standards created by the CDC basically serve as a menu for employers to race to the bottom,” she said. “I think it’s frightening that these are still the same problems every year.”

The CDC did not respond Tuesday night. CDC Director dr. Rochelle Walensky has already announced a thorough revision of the agency’s guidelines, based on “the best evidence available,” the letter said.

Those guidelines will set the standard that occupational safety regulators can enforce, said Lisa Brosseau, an aerosol scientist at the University of Minnesota who signed the letter. She said the CDC’s recognition of the need to protect workers from inhaling the virus would give OSHA more power to protect workers.

Dr. Donald Milton, an environmental professor at the University of Maryland School of Medicine who signed the letter, said it was time to see how low we could boost virus levels – so we don’t have to close the state again if there is another pandemic.

“We have to make an effort to figure it out and do what needs to be done, so we’ll never have to do this again,” he said.

This article was reprinted from with the permission of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. Kaiser Health News, editorially independent news, is a program of the Kaiser Family Foundation, a non-partisan health policy research organization not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.