April 20, 2021 / Kay Bechtold

The Monthly Weekly: Federal Agencies Maintain Focus on COVID-19

Editor’s note: The Monthly Weekly is an occasional feature that reviews the previous month’s news coverage from The Synergist Weekly newsletter.

Yesterday, the United States reached a new milestone related to its COVID-19 vaccine rollout: as of April 19, everyone 16 and older is eligible to get a COVID-19 vaccination. Unsurprisingly, traffic to AIHA’s website indicates that news related to the pandemic continues to be of increased interest to professionals in the fields of industrial hygiene and occupational and environmental health and safety. As workplaces across the country navigate how to safely reopen and operate during the ongoing pandemic, new information from CDC, OSHA, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) can help inform these efforts. Here, SynergistNOW highlights recent developments from these agencies.

Decontaminating disposable respirators. In a letter dated April 9, FDA urged healthcare workers and facilities to move away from using decontaminated disposable respirators. FDA, together with CDC, “[believes] there is adequate supply of respirators to transition away from use of decontamination and bioburden reduction systems,” the letter states. These systems have been used to support the reuse of respirators in healthcare settings in response to respirator shortages stemming from the COVID-19 public health emergency.

Building ventilation. CDC has updated its webpage on building ventilation strategies to mitigate occupants’ exposure to and the transmission of SARS-CoV-2. The webpage was amended on March 23 to include simplified language regarding ventilation tools, new frequently asked questions, and additional information on emerging ventilation technologies and high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) cleaning units.

mRNA vaccine effectiveness. A CDC study of prospective cohorts of essential and frontline workers shows that messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines are effective for preventing SARS-CoV-2 infections in real-world conditions. The study found BNT162b2 (Pfizer-BioNTech) and mRNA-1273 (Moderna) COVID-19 vaccines to be 90 percent effective against symptomatic and asymptomatic SARS-CoV-2 infection at least 14 days after the workers’ second dose.

OSHA inspections. An updated interim enforcement response plan issued by OSHA on March 12 prioritizes the agency’s use of on-site workplace inspections during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. A combination of on-site and remote methods may also be used for programmed inspections, inspections related to fatalities potentially related to COVID-19, and inspections following formal complaints of hazardous conditions in workplaces where employees face frequent close-contact exposures.

National Emphasis Program for COVID-19. An OSHA directive that went into effect on March 12 describes policies and procedures for implementing a new National Emphasis Program to reduce coronavirus exposures among workers in industries or who perform tasks that put them at high risk of contracting SARS-CoV-2. As part of the NEP, OSHA will target workplaces that put the largest number of workers at significant risk.

Another development closely watched by IHs and an OEHS professionals is whether OSHA will issue an emergency temporary standard (ETS) for COVID-19. An executive order issued by President Joe Biden during his first week in office directed OSHA to issue an ETS by March 15 if the agency determined it to be necessary. Earlier this month, Bloomberg Law reported that OSHA’s ETS is currently on hold at the request of the new Secretary of Labor, Marty Walsh. AIHA and the Synergist team will work to keep readers up to date on this and other pandemic-related issues.

What news coverage is most helpful to you? Let us know in the comments or send an email to The Synergist.

Kay Bechtold

Kay Bechtold is the managing editor of The Synergist.


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