March 5, 2021 – David Christiani, Elkan Blout Professor of Environmental Genetics and director of the Harvard Training and Analysis Middle (ERC) for occupational security and well being at Harvard T.H. Chan Faculty of Public Well being, says that U.S. employees want higher safety from aerosol transmission of COVID-19. He’s amongst a gaggle of consultants calling for extra stringent federal office requirements.
Q: What’s the downside with present steering relating to COVID-19 employee protections?
A: The Facilities for Illness Management and Safety (CDC) has been sluggish in revising its suggestions relating to respiratory safety for employees due to the worry that there is perhaps a provide scarcity of N95 masks, which offer the very best stage of safety towards aerosol transmission of COVID-19. Aerosol is a suspension of nice droplets in air that may disperse extra extensively than giant droplets. A 12 months in the past we had a scarcity of private protecting tools, however there isn’t any longer a scarcity. In actual fact, producers of N95 masks say there’s a large stock.
Present CDC tips don’t advocate using N95s to guard towards COVID-19 in non-healthcare settings. However at this level, the a number of million employees in higher-risk classes, in locations reminiscent of meatpacking vegetation, meals processing vegetation, warehouses, and prisons, must be given N95s. There’s no motive these employees should be at elevated threat.
One other subject is that there’s nonetheless the impression amongst some within the medical neighborhood that since most COVID-19 is transmitted solely by bigger droplets, you don’t want widespread use of N95s for most people. It’s true that not everybody going exterior or to the market wants this stage of safety. However amongst sure teams of employees, aerosol transmission of COVID-19 has been proven to be a difficulty, though it might not be the predominant mode of transmission. For instance, in closed areas with out enough air flow, some employees are at actually excessive threat.
It’s price noting that the dearth of enough respiratory safety disproportionately falls on immigrant employees, so that is additionally a well being disparities subject.
Q: What have you ever been doing to push for stronger protections?
A: On February 15, a gaggle of 13 medical and scientific consultants on infectious aerosol transmission despatched a letter to Jeffrey Zients, coordinator of the Biden administration’s COVID-19 response, Rochelle Walensky, director of the CDC, and Anthony Fauci, director of the Nationwide Institute of Allergy and Infectious Illnesses, calling for the speedy inclusion of measures to guard individuals from aerosol inhalation each in CDC tips and in Occupational Well being and Security Administration (OHSA) rules.
I wasn’t a signatory to the letter, however after it went out, the signers contacted me to assist due to my position as director of an ERC. ERCs are analysis facilities funded by the Nationwide Institute for Occupational Security and Well being (NIOSH), which is a part of the CDC. The letter’s signers requested me to speak with administrators of different NIOSH facilities to induce them to jot down their very own letters to federal and state officers urging more durable requirements.
Q: Are you hopeful that these requirements will quickly be strengthened?
A: There’s no query the Biden administration is shifting in the correct path. The president has directed OSHA to subject emergency non permanent requirements for COVID-19 by March 15. However OSHA bases its selections on CDC steering, which is why it’s so essential for the CDC to replace that steering now. With out stronger CDC recognition and up to date steering in regards to the significance of aerosol inhalation as a mode of COVID-19 transmission, OSHA will likely be restricted in what it’s more likely to require of employers for safeguarding employees from COVID-19. Hopefully they’ll make the correct resolution on the 15th.
– Karen Feldscher