Nurses challenge CDC’s latest COVID-19 safety rollback

By Carol Davis

The latest rollback of COVID-19 safety guidelines by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is a serious risk for prolonging the pandemic, says National Nurses United (NNU), which is calling on the CDC to reverse the new guidelines.

“Regrettably, the CDC is once again responding to political pressures from those desperate to remove any safety protocols during this deadly pandemic that is still causing unacceptable numbers of infections, hospitalizations, and deaths every day,” Zenei Triunfo-Cortez, RN, president of NNU, said in a press release.

The CDC’s new framework recommends mask-wearing only for those in counties deemed to have a “high” level of COVID-19, which numbers about 28% of the American population. Community levels by county can be found on the CDC website and are color-coded to denote high, medium, and low risk of COVID.

Residents of counties at “medium” risk—about 42% of the country’s population—should wear masks if they have a compromised immune system or some other heightened risk.

Those in areas with “low” levels of COVID—nearly 30% of the population—will no longer need to mask up indoors, according to the CDC.

The CDC is adopting new metrics on when it is safe to lift universal indoor masking protections, but the population figure required to meet the “high” risk level the CDC is basing the proposal on is “relatively useless,” Triunfo-Cortez said.

“Under the new metric, anything up to 200 new cases per 100,000 could still be considered ‘low’ so long as COVID admissions and hospital capacity stay under a new threshold,” she said. “The new ‘low’ could now be up to 20 times higher than the previous standard, which is certainly not warranted with the ongoing numbers of hospitalizations still occurring, and ever-escalating reports of new variants such as the BA-2 variant now spreading in many countries, including the United States.”

The “medium” level of transmission under the CDC’s revised guidelines also is relatively useless, she continued.

“Advising people to talk to their healthcare provider about whether they should wear a mask puts the burden on individuals, but also ignores inequities in healthcare and the fact that millions of Americans don’t have a regular physician. Instead of recommending masking, the CDC is creating an additional, unnecessary risk and burden for vulnerable individuals,” she said.

By focusing largely on hospital capacity, the CDC is also making masking “contingent on hospital capacity rather than about individual and community protection,” Triunfo-Cortez said. “If you wait until hospital capacity is strained, it will be too late and you are courting disaster.”

Widespread rollback of current protocols has already resulted in far too many people relaxing their vigilance, as seen in the dropping numbers of people receiving vaccinations and booster shots, she says.

“Everyone is anxious to bring this long trial of the pandemic to an end, but relaxing safety protocols will only continue unnecessary and unwarranted loss of life, and further strains for our already overwhelmed frontline caregivers,” Triunfo-Cortez said.

“We don’t need new metrics,” she said. “We need dedicated public health leadership.”

Carol Davis is the Nursing Editor at HealthLeaders, an HCPro brand. This story first appeared on HealthLeaders Media