Nurses union calls on CDC to reinstate universal mask guidelines

The National Nurses Union asked the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to reinstate universal mask-wearing guidelines and implement more robust data tracking citing an increase in cases across the country, according to a letter sent to the agency on July 12. 

Following state reopenings which resulted in ends to preventative health measures such as mask-wearing, the NNU called on the CDC to reverse its COVID-19 guidelines released in May. The union claimed the agency failed to account for data in other countries such as the United Kingdom and Israel which are now seeing spikes in cases for individuals who are ineligible for the vaccine or have elected to not get one. 

"The CDC’s May 13, 2021 guidance also failed to protect medically vulnerable patients, children, and infants who cannot be vaccinated, and immunocompromised individuals for whom vaccines may be less effective. While Covid-19 vaccines are important public health tools, and the vaccination effort has been truly historic, Covid-19 vaccines are not enough by themselves to combat the pandemic," the letter said. 

The NNU recognized that while the available COVID-19 vaccines prevent severe illness from the virus, "no vaccine is 100 percent effective and the emergence and spread of variants of concern may reduce vaccine effectiveness," according to the letter. 

Masks in LA

FILE - A woman who is folding her clothes inside a laundromat is wearing a face mask during the coronavirus pandemic on Sunday, July 18, 2021 in South Pasadena, CA.

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Additionally, the NNU cited the World Health Organization’s call for continued mask-wearing on June 25 amid rising cases across the globe. 

"As Dr. Mariângela Simão said, '…vaccine alone won’t stop the community transmission and we need to ensure that people follow the public health measures…. People need to continue to use masks consistently, be in ventilated spaces, hand hygiene, respiratory etiquette, the physical distance, avoid crowding,‘" the letter continued. 

Across the United States, the daily number of new COVID-19 cases has soared by nearly 20,000 over the last two weeks to about 32,000. The vaccine campaign has hit a wall, with the average number of daily inoculations sinking to the lowest levels since January. Cases are on the rise in all 50 states. 

U.S. surgeon general Dr. Vivek Murthy said Sunday that he's concerned about what lies ahead with cases of COVID-19 increasing in every state, millions still unvaccinated, and a highly contagious virus variant spreading rapidly. 

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Murthy also noted that nearly all coronavirus deaths now are among the tens of millions of people who haven't received shots, despite widespread vaccine availability. 

"I am worried about what is to come because we are seeing increasing cases among the unvaccinated in particular. And while, if you are vaccinated, you are very well protected against hospitalization and death, unfortunately that is not true if you are not vaccinated," Murthy said on CNN’s "State of the Union." 

About 186 million Americans have received at least one shot, but another 90 million eligible Americans haven't. 

The NNU also appealed to the CDC to fully recognize that COVID-19 can be spread through aerosol transmission. 

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"Even after recognizing the scientific evidence on aerosol transmission, the CDC refused to update its Covid-19 guidance accordingly, stating, ‘Although how we understand transmission occurs has shifted, the ways to prevent infection with this virus have not. All prevention measures that CDC recommends remain effective for these forms of transmission,‘" the letter said. 

As of July 19, the CDC’s COVID-19 website does not list aerosol as a form of transmission for the novel coronavirus. 

In the letter addressed to Dr. Rachel Walensky, director of the CDC, the union also called on the agency to implement more robust methods of tracking COVID-19 infections in essential and health care workers. 

"The CDC has failed to effectively track health care worker infections and deaths from Covid-19. As of July 11, 2021, the CDC reports that 1,691 health care workers have died from Covid-19. But NNU has tracked reports of at least 3,956 health care workers who have died from Covid-19, as of July 9, 2021," the letter read. 

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The union also claimed the CDC was not doing an adequate job of tracking breakthrough cases in vaccinated individuals, which include mild or asymptomatic cases, saying the CDC’s guidance to only track breakthrough cases if they ended in hospitalization or death "was imprudent and short-sighted." 

"For instance, it remains unclear how effective Covid-19 vaccines are for immunocompromised individuals, how long protection may last, and how well Covid-19 vaccines prevent asymptomatic and mild infections and transmission of the virus," according to the letter. 

On Monday, the American Academy of Pediatrics released new recommendations, stating that regardless of vaccination status, everyone should wear a mask while attending in-school classes to prevent further spread of the novel coronavirus and other variants. These recommendations echoed updated guidelines released by the CDC earlier this month. 

The AAP cited a slew of recent COVID-19 outbreaks linked to summer camps throughout the United States, recommending schools adopt preventative health measures as well as encouraging all eligible people to get their COVID-19 vaccines. 

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Meanwhile, Los Angeles County in California reinstated masks indoors starting July 18. The decision to require masks once again in southern California was met with opposition in other states, with local governors refusing to follow suit despite rising cases. 

A day after Los Angeles County said it was bringing back a mask requirement for indoor spaces, McMaster's office said the governor "will not allow for the restriction of South Carolinians in any way." 

"For over a year and a half, South Carolinians have learned about the virus, they know what to do to protect themselves from it, and the vaccine is available to anyone who wants it," a spokesperson for South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster told WBTW

Similarly, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee stated that he has no plans to require masks, encouraging people to get shots instead. 

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Inslee acknowledged the sharp rise in case numbers but said "the acceleration has not been significant enough in our book to warrant that." 

In Texas, which has also seen a significant rise in cases, the city of Austin issued guidelines calling for people to wear masks, but that recommendation cannot carry the weight of law because Gov. Greg Abbott has prohibited mask mandates. 

Unlike the Los Angeles mandate, Austin’s recommendation is targeted at those who have not been vaccinated. LA County’s indoor mask requirement applies to all, including those who are fully vaccinated. 

FOX TV Stations reached out to the CDC for comment. 

The Associated Press and FOX LA contributed to this report.