Nurses’ Union Is “Outraged” With the CDC’s Relaxed Masking Guidance

“We are still in the midst of the deadliest pandemic in a century.”

Nurses affiliated with the National Nurses United union read the names of registered nurses who died during the coronavirus pandemic while demonstrating in Washington, DC.Win McNamee/Getty

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced earlier this week that fully vaccinated people can socialize indoors without a mask, prompting many states and businesses to update their coronavirus safety guidelines. The CDC still calls for masks to be worn in schools, buses, trains, and other crowded indoor settings, yet its lifting of more onerous requirements signals a return to relative normalcy after more than a year. But not everyone is celebrating.

National Nurses United, the largest nurses’ union in the United States, blasted the CDC guidance in a Friday statement, saying its members were “extremely disappointed” by the decision.

“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,” NNU Executive Director Bonnie Castillo said. “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.”

Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky, the CDC director, said the agency updated its guidance after new studies emerged that show vaccines have been successful at preventing transmission of the virus and protecting against known coronavirus variants. Since mid-April, new cases of COVID-19 have been on a steady decline nationally and the rate of virus-related deaths has plunged as more Americans get vaccinated. 

The nurses’ union, in its statement, says there are still several unanswered questions about the vaccines, including “how well vaccines prevent transmission of the virus” and “how long protection from vaccines will last.” The union also raised concerns about the spread of “deadlier” variants of the virus. 

The recent studies highlighted by the CDC show that the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines have been effective against several variants of the virus and that vaccinated people bear little risk of spreading the disease.

Yet frontline workers—like nurses, grocery clerks, janitors, and restaurant servers—won’t have a guarantee that everyone they’re interacting with is indeed vaccinated, the nurses’ union statement points out, leading to heightened risk in the work place. “There has been so much inequity in the vaccine rollout and racial inequity in who is a frontline worker put most at risk by this guidance,” NNU President Zenei Triunfo-Cortez said. “The impact of the CDC’s guidance update will be felt disproportionately by workers of color and their families and communities.”

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