National Nurses United 'outraged' over CDC's rolled-back mask guidance

National Nurses United, the country's largest nurses union, is condemning the CDC's decision to roll back indoor mask guidance for fully vaccinated people. 

The agency's new guidance, announced May 13, says fully vaccinated Americans no longer need to wear masks or follow social distancing guidelines in most indoor settings. 

"This newest CDC guidance is not based on science, does not protect public health, and threatens the lives of patients, nurses, and other frontline workers across the country," Bonnie Castillo, RN, executive director of the union, said in a May 14 statement. "Now is not the time to relax protective measures, and we are outraged that the CDC has done just that while we are still in the midst of the deadliest pandemic in a century."

The union cited that new daily U.S. infections continue to top 35,000, and that there are still unanswered questions over how long vaccine protection will last, among several other concerns. 

"CDC issued this new guidance even though the Occupational Safety and Health Administration emergency temporary standard mandated by President Biden's Jan. 21 executive order has been delayed for two months," Ms. Castillo added. "This lack of protection compounds the dangers that nurses and other essential workers continue to face on the job." 

The California Nurses Association, a member of NNU, has urged state officials not to follow the new guidance, the San Francisco Chronicle reported May 16. 

Zenei Triunfo-Cortez, RN, CNA president, told the Chronicle the rollback is a "big blow to the safety and welfare of our nurses, front line workers, as well as the patients." 

"We have to understand that the pandemic is not over," Ms. Triunfo-Cortez said. "There continues to be high rates of infection and people continue to die, even nurses."

The updated guidance is backed by "numerous reports in the literature that demonstrate the safety and real-world effectiveness of the authorized vaccines," Rochelle Walensky, MD, CDC director, said when announcing the rollback. She referenced six studies that supported the agency's decision to update guidance, including research that demonstrated vaccines were effective against circulating variants in the U.S. 

Dr. Walensky reiterated that the guidance was only meant for fully vaccinated people during a May 16 interview on Fox News. 

"If you are vaccinated, we are saying you are safe, you can take off your mask and you are not at risk of severe disease or hospitalization from COVID-19," she said. "If you are not vaccinated, you are not safe. Please go get vaccinated or continue to wear your mask." 

People with immunocompromising conditions who are fully vaccinated should consult their physicians before forgoing pandemic safety guidelines, and communities with high caseloads should consider keeping mask requirements in place, Dr. Walensky told NBC May 16. 

"This was not permission to shed masks for everybody everywhere," she said. "This was really science-driven individual assessment of your risk." 


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