Nurses urge CDC to reinstate universal masking


July 22, 2021

By Carol Davis, HealthLeaders Media

Noting that the “COVID-19 pandemic is far from over,” with most states seeing increasing cases, National Nurses United (NNU) sent a letter Monday to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) asking the agency to once again recommend that masks be worn in public to reduce the increasing spread of the virus.

“NNU strongly urges the CDC to reinstate universal masking, irrespective of vaccination status, to help reduce the spread of the virus, especially from infected individuals who do not have any symptoms,” wrote NNU executive director Bonnie Castillo, RN, in the letter. “SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 disease, spreads easily from person to person via aerosol transmission when an infected person [even if they’re asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic] breathes, speaks, coughs, or sneezes.”

The United States is seeing a 16% increase in daily new cases over the previous week and more than 40 states have an increase in daily new cases over the previous two weeks as well as 25 states seeing an increase in hospitalizations, according to NNU.

The rise in cases is not surprising due to “the rapid reopening of many states and the removal of public health measures, including the CDC’s May 13, 2021, guidance update that told vaccinated individuals they no longer needed to wear masks, observe physical distancing, avoid crowds, or get tested or isolate after an exposure, within only a few exceptions,” the letter states.

The “CDC’s guidance failed to account for the possibility—which preliminary data from the United Kingdom and Israel now indicates is likely—of infection and transmission of the virus, especially variants of concern, by fully vaccinated individuals,” the letter continued.

The Delta SARS-CoV-2 variant is already dominant in the United States.

The CDC’s May 13 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,” Castillo wrote.

COVID-19 vaccines are a vital public health tool, but they are just one of multiple precautionary measures necessary, as NNU noted in a May 17, 2021 scientific brief, particularly because only 48% of the total U.S. population has been fully vaccinated as of July 11, 2021, according to the CDC.

The vaccines effectively prevent serious illness and death from the virus, but no vaccine is 100% effective. Additionally, the emergence and spread of variants may reduce vaccine effectiveness. In response to the spreading Delta variant, the World Health Organization on June 25 urged fully vaccinated people to wear masks.

“Masks are a simple and effective tool, especially when used in combination with other measures to reduce the risk of COVID-19,” Castillo wrote.

NNU also called on the CDC to update healthcare infection control and other COVID-19 guidance to fully recognize aerosol transmission; require tracking and transparent reporting of COVID infections among healthcare workers and other essential workers; and track infections in people who are fully vaccinated, including mild and asymptomatic infections.

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

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