Where nurses, CDC don't see eye to eye

National Nurses United's recent scrutiny over the CDC's proposed masking standards in hospitals is the latest example of the two entities not seeing eye to eye on infection control.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic's start in 2020, the largest U.S. union of registered nurses has led several calls urging the CDC to clarify or strengthen infection control guidance related to isolation and masking. 

In the latest instance, the NNU has expressed concern over draft CDC guidance that, if finalized after a November vote, would put surgical masks on par with N95s. An advisory committee released a draft of its proposals in June, which concluded there is no difference in protection offered by N95s compared to surgical masks. In response, NNU delivered a petition supported by 45 organizations that called the proposed updates "anti-science" and failed to recognize the aerosol transmission of respiratory pathogens. The CDC told KFF News it welcomes feedback and clarified the draft proposals are not final. 

As the BA.5 omicron subvariant began to fuel a rise in cases and hospitalizations in July 2022, NNU called on the CDC to strengthen what it called "lax" public health guidance and communications regarding the virus' spread and when to implement mitigation measures such as masking. Specifically, NNU took issue with the CDC's community levels metric, which recommended masking indoors when community levels — which were mostly based on hospitalizations — were high. 

In December 2021, National Nurses United condemned the agency's recommendation to trim the isolation period for asymptomatic healthcare workers with COVID-19 from 10 days to seven days, and guidance that said exposed workers who were vaccinated no longer needed to quarantine. 

In response to a comment request regarding NNU's calls for changes to infection control guidance, the CDC sent a link to a webpage that explains its advisory committee's role in developing isolation precautions guidance. The Healthcare Infection Control Advisory Committee is made up of experts "across the continuum of care" including members with expertise in nursing and clinical operations, the site says. 

Requests to bolster infection control protocols from the union come amid broader calls from the nursing industry for hospitals to improve workplace safety and other efforts to recruit and retain nurses. 

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