National Nurses United (NNU), the nation’s largest union of registered nurses, condemns today’s decision by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to shorten the isolation period for nurses and other workers who have tested positive for Covid-19 from 10 days to seven days and no longer requiring exposed vaccinated and boosted health care workers to quarantine.
On Dec. 22, NNU sent a letter to the CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, signed by NNU President Zenei Triunfo-Cortez, RN, urging the agency to “maintain current guidance regarding isolation after a positive SARS-CoV-2 test for health care workers, other frontline workers, and the general public.”
Shortening the isolation time for Covid-positive asymptomatic health care workers will only lead to more transmission. “Weakening Covid-19 guidance now, in the face of what could be the most devastating Covid-19 surge yet, will only result in further transmission, illness, and death,” wrote Triunfo-Cortez who also noted that employers’ arguments for reducing the isolation timeframe focus on “maintaining business operations, revenues, and profits, without regard for science or the health of employees and the public.”
No longer requiring fully vaccinated and boosted health care workers to quarantine after a high-risk exposure ignores basic tenets of infection control and the precautionary principle. A more effective response to the rapidly spreading Omicron variant would be for the CDC to improve existing post-exposure guidance to fully recognize that this virus is airborne, and to strike the false equivalency between face masks and respirators.
By allowing infected and potentially infected health care workers to continue to work, the CDC and employers are in effect guaranteeing more transmission. “Our goal is to protect patients and keep nurses healthy and safe on the frontlines,” said Triunfo-Cortez. “Sending frontline nurses and other health care workers to work while infected would be dangerous. Employers must be held accountable in preventing infections in the first place.”
“Strengthening, not weakening protections, is the solution to the staffing crisis ” said Triunfo-Cortez. “The hospital industry manufactured the current staffing crisis by imposing unsafe working conditions on nurses. The Covid-19 pandemic exacerbated long standing staffing issues when hospitals failed to protect us and our patients.”
Nurses say it would be unconscionable to weaken the isolation guidance in the face of the more transmissible and vaccine-resistant Omicron variant and what could be the most devastating Covid surge yet.