- Voicing concern that the pandemic is far from over, National Nurses United has asked a federal appeals court for a permanent standard requiring employers to protect healthcare workers against occupational exposure to COVID-19.
- The union is seeking a writ of mandamus from the court ordering the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to issue the permanent standard, and to retain and enforce the existing emergency temporary standard in the meantime. OSHA implemented the temporary standard in June and announced it was withdrawing portions of the rule in December.
- Nearly 500 registered nurses and more than 4,500 other healthcare workers to date have died due to COVID-19, NNU said Monday.
COVID-19 cases in the U.S. continue to decline from a January peak. But new cases have risen over the past two weeks in more than a dozen states, primarily in the Northeast, driven by the spread of an infectious omicron subvariant known as BA.2. The subvariant now accounts for 72% of omicron cases in the country, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Spiking COVID-19 cases in parts of Europe and Asia also have raised concerns about the potential for a new surge here.
NNU, which represents 175,000 nurses across the country, has been pushing for mandatory protections for nurses and other healthcare workers since the pandemic started. The group filed a petition with the Labor Department in March 2020 seeking an emergency temporary standard to protect nurses from exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace.
The temporary standard, implemented by OSHA in June, mandated that hospitals and other healthcare facilities follow requirements for ventilation, physical barriers and other protections intended to reduce virus transmission.
NNU petitioned the appeals court, along with a coalition of national labor organizations, in January to make the emergency temporary standard permanent after the Labor Department failed to do so.
OSHA said in December that it intended to keep working toward issuing a final standard that would protect healthcare workers from COVID-19 hazards as part of a broader rulemaking effort addressing infectious disease. The agency urged healthcare employers to continue to implement the emergency temporary standard requirements to protect workers in the interim.
In oral arguments before the U.S. Appeals Court for the D.C. Circuit, NNU said 650 Americans are now dying daily from COVID-19, a higher rate of death than the 500 per day who were dying in June 2021, when OSHA found it necessary to issue the emergency temporary standard.
NNU argued that OSHA should give "full effect" to the emergency temporary standard in the absence of a permanent standard.
An attorney for the Labor Department told the court that the emergency temporary standard remains in effect, but the government essentially announced a nonenforcement policy in December.
Along with NNU, the petitioners in the case include the AFL-CIO, American Federation of Teachers, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, New York State Nurses Association and Pennsylvania Association of Nurses and Allied Professionals.