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THE LABOR DEPARTMENT WON’T TAKE STEPS TO PROTECT

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Post time 2020-4-26 19:16:48 | Show all posts |Read mode
THE LABOR DEPARTMENT WON’T TAKE STEPS TO PROTECT HEALTH CARE WORKERS FROM THE CORONAVIRUS
(AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
THE LABOR DEPARTMENT WON’T TAKE STEPS TO PROTECT HEALTH CARE WORKERS FROM THE CORONAVIRUS
THE LABOR DEPARTMENT WON’T TAKE STEPS TO PROTECT HEALTH CARE WORKERS FROM THE CORONAVIRUS
THE LABOR DEPARTMENT WON’T TAKE STEPS TO PROTECT HEALTH CARE WORKERS FROM THE CORONAVIRUS
The U.S. Department of Labor has rejected pressure to issue worker protections that nurses are demanding. The hospital industry wants it that way.
This article is published in partnership with Mother Jones.
INTRODUCTION
Are you a health worker, medical provider, COVID-19 patient, or federal employee on the front lines of the pandemic? We want to hear from you. Email us tips@publicintegrity.org.
More than 3,000 nurses from across the country gathered the afternoon of March 12 for a critical conference call.

The nurses wanted answers from their union leaders: Could people build immunity to the coronavirus? How long does the virus stick to surfaces? What’s the best way to protect themselves from contracting COVID-19?

Although nearly two weeks had passed since the United States’ first coronavirus patient died outside of Seattle, many nurses on this call still found themselves awash in conflicting information about how to stay safe. Union leaders tried to set the record straight.

As of Sunday, more than 2,400 people across the nation have died from COVID-19, and more than 135,000 have tested positive for it. Nurses and other health care workers are at high risk of contracting the disease, and they’re panicking, saying hospitals and the government aren’t doing enough to limit their exposure.

Despite such concerns, the U.S. Department of Labor has refused to issue an emergency rule requiring hospitals to create a plan to protect their employees from exposure to the coronavirus and other infectious diseases, according to records obtained by the Center for Public Integrity.
And the federal agency’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration won’t provide direction to its safety inspectors on how to cite hospitals and nursing homes that aren’t doing enough to protect workers from the new hazard — a departure from its practice during past outbreaks.
Meanwhile, the hospital industry’s trade group, the American Hospital Association, has successfully lobbied Congress to block passage of an emergency infectious disease standard that would strengthen protections for health care workers on the front lines. Earlier this month, House lawmakers scrapped language from a relief bill that would have forced the Department of Labor to create one.
The result: Nurses and other health care workers say they’re left to fend for themselves.

“It’s frightening,” said Katie Oppenheim, a nurse in Michigan, noting that her hospital recently began giving nurses less protective masks than the N95 respirators they’ve been wearing. Others say their hospitals won’t test employees who’ve been exposed to the coronavirus.

A recent survey of 8,200 nurses, conducted by three nursing groups, showed that less than half had been briefed about COVID-19 by their supervisors.
The resistance to employee protections comes as more and more U.S. health care workers get sick.

It’s unclear how many medical personnel have been infected by the coronavirus — the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention did not respond to a request for the information from Public Integrity. But media reports have identified more than 100 cases, including those involving a nurse in Connecticut and two emergency physicians in New Jersey. At least one nurse, in New York City, has died from the disease. His co-workers blamed the hospital for not providing him with appropriate protective gear. Two health care workers have also died amid the shortage of protective gear in Georgia.
Hundreds of other health care workers have been quarantined from exposure to the coronavirus at work.

There are about 18 million health care workers in the United States. Women make up the vast majority.

“This is a desperate situation, and the lives of health care workers are at stake,” said David Michaels, who led OSHA until 2017 and now teaches environmental and occupational health at The George Washington University. They “have to be the first ones protected.”

The Department of Labor’s refusal to issue an emergency rule aligns with the Trump administration’s overarching deregulation efforts. Workplace safety experts warn that the threat of fines and bad publicity from an OSHA citation is exactly what’s needed to make hospitals take care of their employees during the pandemic. The lack of enforcement action by OSHA, they say, is putting the lives of health care workers at risk, increasing the chances that they’ll spread the disease to their families and communities.

OSHA REFUSES TO ACT
It’s possible that, a decade ago, Department of Labor officials foresaw the current crisis.

In 2010, OSHA started drafting a new safety standard that would require health care employers to create infection control plans to keep doctors, nurses and other health care workers from getting exposed to deadly diseases. That could mean building isolation rooms to quarantine patients and making sure employees wear gowns, gloves and respirators around high-risk patients.

The nation had just escaped the worst of the H1N1 swine flu, which killed more than 12,000 Americans and infected 48 health care workers. At the time, OSHA had a rule to protect health care workers from bloodborne infections — such as hepatitis — but nothing for respiratory infections, which is what COVID-19 is.

The safety standard wound its way through the rulemaking process. The Department of Labor issued a draft in early 2017. A few months later, after Donald Trump took office, the Department of Labor punted it to the agency’s “long-term” regulatory agenda. Nothing has happened since.

Fast forward three years. With COVID-19 paralyzing the country, labor unions and workers’ rights advocates have been urging OSHA to issue an emergency version of the rule right away.
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