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Monday, February 6th, 2023

Sen. Gillibrand leads letter demanding emergency COVID-19 protections for healthcare workers become permanent

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In a letter dispatched to the Biden administration last week, U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and nearly 20 colleagues asked that the withdrawing OSHA emergency COVID-19 protections for healthcare workers be made permanent.

OSHA, or the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, established an Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) for workers on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic back in June 2021. It offered protections, standards for healthcare employers’ responsibilities to workers, means of reporting lack of compliance, and requirements for identifying and controlling COVID-19 hazards and protections.

OSHA has refrained from instituting a permanent rule, and in December 2021, non-recordkeeping portions of its temporary standard expired.

“We write to urge the Department of Labor to take all necessary steps to expeditiously issue a permanent standard to protect our nation’s health care workers in the workplace,” the senators wrote. “Particularly in the context of rising COVID-19 caseloads stemming from the spread of the Omicron variant, our nation’s health care workers deserve a permanent, enforceable standard that will ensure their health and safety as they continue to work on the front lines of the pandemic response.”

As of last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that 848,028 health care workers in the United States had contracted COVID-19. The senators argued that their health and well-being will be at even greater risk without a permanent rule, especially as overwork and staffing shortages mount.

The effort, endorsed by organizations including the AFL-CIO, NYS AFL-CIO, SEIU, 1199SEIU, 32BJ SEIU, and National Nurses United, was also buoyed by a similar letter in the House, which saw the support of U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-MI) and more than 100 co-signers.