As the rise of the Omicron variant continues to threaten the safety of our nation’s health care workforce, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand is leading her colleagues in a letter calling on the Biden administration to continue and make permanent the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) emergency COVID-19 protections for health care workers. The letter addresses OSHA’s announcement at the end of 2021 that it would allow the Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) to lapse, despite the fact that health care workers still face serious safety challenges and workplace risks. Today, more than 120,000 people are hospitalized with COVID-19 nationwide, further straining overworked health care workers and hospitals facing severe staffing shortages. Recent reporting shows that overworked doctors, nurses, and staff have been forced to continue working in unsafe conditions and are concerned for their health and safety.
“OSHA’s emergency standard was absolutely necessary to protecting our nation’s health care workers. Implementing a permanent standard will both ensure health care workers have the protections needed to continue their lifesaving work and mitigate the spread of COVID-19,” said Senator Gillibrand. “I urge the Biden administration to take immediate action to issue a rule that will protect health care workers serving on the front lines of this pandemic. As we continue to see record burnout among our health care workforce two years into the pandemic, it is necessary to keep these protections in place to provide the accountability and transparency needed to keep our patients, workers, and communities healthy.”
“It is critical that the federal government ensures that nurses and other healthcare workers are getting the protections we need to do our jobs safely, without putting ourselves or our families at risk of Covid exposure,” said NNU Executive Director Bonnie Castillo, RN. “We can’t safely care for our patients if we are sick ourselves. We thank Senator Gillibrand, Leader Schumer, and every senator who signed this letter, for standing in solidarity with nurses across the country and fighting for the protections that we need to do our jobs safely during this pandemic. The Biden administration must quickly issue a final permanent Covid-19 health care standard—and retain the emergency temporary standard until the permanent standard goes into effect—before one more nurse is sidelined, lost to the profession, or lost to this world for good.”
“As a frontline worker, I live around COVID, as a direct care worker, I and my coworkers deal with COVID daily. It’s imperative that we’re protected in order to take care of our patients, but also take care of the public. We love giving care to our patients, but we also need to be safe so that it doesn’t spread and so that we don’t take it home to our families,” said Scheena Tannis, RN from Brookdale Hospital, 1199SEIU.
“These protections are critical to the health and safety of nurses and, in turn, the welfare of our patients. The nation is best served by a Department of Labor advocating for an OSHA standard that gives nurses here in New York — in all the states — the confidence in the protections from an airborne virus. We join Senator Gillibrand and others calling for all provisions of the Emergency Temporary Standard to remain in force while expeditious promulgation of a permanent standard is carried out,” said Pat Kane, RN, Executive Director, New York State Nurses Association
In June of 2021, OSHA issued an Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) to protect the workers who have shouldered the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic and to provide clear standards detailing health care employers’ responsibilities to the safety of their workers. The standard requires employers to identify and control COVID-19 hazards in the workplace, provide access to personal protective equipment (PPE) and adequate ventilation systems, and ensure workers are notified of workplace exposures to COVID-19. This standard also gave health care workers a tool against which to measure their workplace practices, and recourse to OSHA if they felt their workplace was out of compliance.
On December 27, 2021, six months after promulgation of the ETS, OSHA announced it was not ready to issue a permanent rule and would let the non-recordkeeping portions of the temporary standard expire. When OSHA issued the ETS in June 2021, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had reported that 491,816 health care workers had contracted COVID-19 and 1,611 had died. Today, those numbers have nearly doubled, with the CDC reporting that 848,028 health care workers across the nation have contracted COVID-19. Without a permanent rule, the health and well-being of our nation’s health care workers are at risk.
This letter is endorsed by the AFL-CIO, NYS AFL-CIO, SEIU, 1199SEIU, 32BJ SEIU, and National Nurses United.
This letter is signed by Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Bernie Sanders (D-VT), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Tina Smith (D-MN), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Ed Markey (D-MA), Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Alex Padilla (D-CA), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Gary Peters (D-MI), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Chris Murphy (D-CT).
Congresswoman Dingell led a similar letter in the House of Representatives that has more than 100 co-signers. New York delegation co-signers include Representatives Jamaal Bowman (D-NY-16), Yvette Clarke (D-NY-9), Adriano Espaillat (D-NY-13), Mondaire Jones (D-NY-17), Carolyn Maloney (D-NY-12), Grace Meng (D-NY-6), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY-14), Tom Suozzi (D-NY-3), Ritchie Torres (D-NY-15), and Nydia Velázquez (D-NY-7).
To read the letter, please click here.