The Monthly Weekly: Tools, Research, and Enforcement for 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.
With the third summer of the COVID-19 pandemic upon us, many pandemic restrictions have vanished in the United States. Earlier this month, for example, CDC dropped its requirement for people traveling by plane from a foreign country to provide a negative COVID-19 test result or documentation of recent recovery prior to flying. Meanwhile, COVID-19 vaccination eligibility has expanded: in recent weeks, CDC endorsed the recommendation of its Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices that young children should receive a COVID-19 vaccine. The agency’s recommendation followed the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s emergency use authorization of the Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccines for children as young as six months old. This pandemic milestone expands the eligibility for COVID-19 vaccination to children ages six months to five years—the last age group to become eligible in the U.S.
Other U.S. government agencies have shifted their focus on COVID-19 to areas such as enforcement, the effects of the pandemic on healthcare workers, ventilation, and tools for future pandemics. Here, SynergistNOW provides highlights of recent updates from agencies of interest to industrial hygienists and occupational and environmental health and safety professionals.
Tool for estimating N95 needs of essential workers. NIOSH researchers have developed a spreadsheet-based tool for estimating the number of N95 respirators needed to protect essential workers in nonhealthcare occupations during a future pandemic. Estimates generated through this tool “can help public health officials and policymakers prepare for future emergencies and plan for available N95 respirators for nonhealthcare essential workers,” says NIOSH.
Ventilation in public schools. A report published this month by CDC focuses on strategies to improve ventilation and indoor air quality in schools. Though “substantial federal resources” are available to improve ventilation in schools, the agency found that schools more frequently employ lower-cost strategies such as inspecting and validating existing heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems and opening doors or windows rather than implementing more resource-intensive strategies.
Effects of COVID-19 on U.S. healthcare workforce. In May, the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), issued a report that combines a literature review with data collected by the Census Bureau and Bureau of Labor Statistics to assess challenges related to the COVID-19 pandemic faced by the nation’s healthcare workers. Increased stress caused by the public health crisis has contributed to personnel shortages, mental health concerns, burnout, and related physical health issues, according to HHS.
Healthcare worker burnout. An advisory issued by U.S. Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy lists healthcare worker burnout among the top public health priorities of the Office of the Surgeon General. The advisory describes burnout as “an occupational syndrome characterized by a high degree of emotional exhaustion and depersonalization (i.e., cynicism) and a low sense of personal accomplishment at work.”
Enforcement and data challenges at OSHA. OSHA faces significant challenges in both the agency’s efforts to enforce workplace safety and health standards and in collecting injury and illness data that is used to target inspections, according to a report issued on May 25 by the U.S. Government Accountability Office. The report specifically highlights the challenges OSHA faced related to implementation of the two emergency temporary standards it issued in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
OSHA settlement with meat processing plants. On May 27, OSHA announced that it had reached a settlement with four affiliates and subsidiaries of food processing company JBS Foods USA. The terms of the agreement stipulate that the JBS subsidiaries and affiliates must work to reduce employee exposures to COVID-19 by following an updated “Safe Work Playbook” and forming a team of company representatives and third-party experts who will assess operations at JBS meat processing plants and assist in developing and implementing an infectious disease preparedness plan.
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