1199SEIU President’s Message Regarding Latest CDC Quarantine Guidelines

January 6, 2022

For immediate release:

Contact: Mindy Berman, 518-229-0486

“We Must Protect Our Healthcare Heroes"

We all expected and hoped against hope to see a healthier new year. But, the Omicron variant, raging across the world, has quashed that vision for now. The reality is that we are once again in crisis. We may be better prepared on some fronts this time. Still, we are concerned about the risks associated with the CDC’s newest recommendation to reduce quarantine time and allow healthcare workers who test positive, without symptoms, to return to work in five days.

The CDC director says the change was motivated by both the science demonstrating that the majority of transmission occurs early in the course of illness and “economic and societal concerns.” But, unfortunately, we know that putting business and economic concerns on equal footing with public health has never been a successful formula.

The guidance allows self-assessment of transmission risk without a test, which could lead to more spread and more COVID-19 cases. In fact, data shows that about 20 to 40% of people will still be able to transmit COVID after five days.1 That’s a risk healthcare workers should not be asked to take; they need full recovery time.

1199SEIU members are on the frontlines. They know that Omicron is sending more people to hospitals. In the past two years, they have experienced it all, stretched to their breaking points. Many got sick, some briefly, others for the long haul. They lost patients to COVID, and also lost coworkers. And despite every precaution, many brought the virus home, and their loved ones became ill. It has been two years of overwhelming grief.

Healthcare employers have the primary responsibility to prevent infections and keep its workforce safe. Allowing employers to bring back potentially sick and infectious workers rescinds this responsibility. It will create more fear, especially as more patients and their caregivers get sick.

Faced with the current crisis, officials in Washington think that reducing quarantine time will address the critical short-staffing that healthcare institutions face across the country. But that’s not what’s happening. Take a look up close, and you can see that as the risks increase and more people are getting sick, committed healthcare workers are making the difficult decision to leave the jobs they love.

These new guidelines are creating more uncertainty and contribute to the distrust many people already have regarding how the pandemic is being managed.

But there is a better way to protect public health and healthcare workers. The industry, with President Biden and Congress, must do everything they can to increase protections, wages, and paid leave in healthcare settings. These are necessary steps to retain and recruit the caregivers we need to stop this pandemic. Healthcare workers will once again step up to the plate during a crisis, but only if they trust that public officials and employers have our health as the top priority.

George Gresham is the president of 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, the largest and fastest-growing healthcare union in America, representing over 450,000 nurses and caregivers throughout Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Washington, D.C. and Florida. Our mission is to achieve quality care and good jobs for all.

1 https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2021/12/28/1068632200/cdc-covid-guidelines-testing