The largest union for registered nurses in the U.S. called on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to bring back recommendations for universal masking in public regardless of people’s vaccination status.
The National Nurses Union (NNU) in a Monday letter to CDC Director Rochelle Walensky requested that the agency reinstitute guidelines for all people to wear masks in public and in close proximity to those outside their household.
NNU Executive Director Bonnie Castillo pointed to a 16 percent uptick in U.S. COVID-19 cases from last week, according to CDC data, as well as rises in case counts in more than 40 states and hospitalizations in more than 25 states as reasons to return to previous, stricter guidelines.
“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,” Castillo wrote in the letter. “Our suggestions are based on science and the precautionary principle and are made in order to protect nurses, other essential workers, patients, and the public from Covid-19.”
The union also cited the World Health Organization’s (WHO) call for vaccinated people to continue wearing masks in public amid the spread of the highly transmissible delta variant. Several U.S. officials and experts have said the WHO’s guidance reflects the state of the pandemic worldwide, which overall has seen lower vaccination rates than the U.S.
Castillo acknowledged that COVID-19 vaccines are effective at preventing severe illness and death but noted “no vaccine is 100 percent effective, and the emergence and spread of variants of concern may reduce vaccine effectiveness.”
The NNU in its letter also appeals for the CDC to update its guidance to “fully recognize aerosol transmission,” mandate tracking and reporting of cases among health care and essential workers, and keep records of cases, including mild and asymptomatic infections, among fully vaccinated people to measure the shots’ effectiveness.
The CDC did not immediately return a request for comment on the letter, but officials have consistently defended the updated mask guidance, saying fully vaccinated individuals are protected against the virus.
The NNU vocally opposed the CDC’s current mask guidance updated in May to permit fully vaccinated individuals to go maskless in virtually all settings. The union has argued that the change in recommendations endangered patients, front-line workers and nurses as the pandemic continues.
In the Monday letter, the union wrote that the CDC’s relaxation of mask guidance “failed to account for” the possibility of fully vaccinated people contracting and spreading the virus. It also said the agency’s guidelines do not protect people, including children, who cannot get the vaccine.
The NNU sent the letter days after the CDC urged schools to reopen for full in-person learning in the fall, saying that fully vaccinated teachers and students do not need to wear masks.
It also comes after Los Angeles County and St. Louis County recommended their residents to wear masks in public indoors.