By the California Nurses Association
Even though the state of California is prematurely lifting on June 15 almost all public health infection control restrictions to prevent the spread of Covid-19, the California Nurses Association (CNA) urges the public to voluntarily adhere to multiple measures of protection, including the simple, cheap, and accessible practice of wearing a facemask.
“Please, please just keep your masks on when you are indoors and in crowds,” said Zenei Triunfo-Cortez, RN and a president of CNA. “It’s such a simple but effective way of preventing Covid-19. This pandemic is not over. We still have upwards of 10,000 new infections and hundreds of deaths per day. Not even half the U.S. population is fully vaccinated. And some of the new variants are highly contagious and incredibly troubling. Please keep on masking to protect yourselves and your families.”
Triunfo-Cortez noted that the lack of infection control restrictions will endanger our most vulnerable Californians — including all kids under 12, the immunocompromised, and essential workers who tend to be disproportionately Black, Indigenous, and people of color. For example, according to data from the California Department of Public Health, the seven-day moving average of new Covid-19 cases among children aged 0 to 17 increased 21 percent over the last week, a very worrying trend.
CNA has long advocated for an approach to controlling Covid-19 that follows the precautionary principle, which says it’s best to take the safer route even before we know for sure whether something is harmful or not. These latest moves by the state of California are motivated by politics, not the science about the virus.
CNA asserts that vaccination is a critically important — but only one part — of a comprehensive infection control public health program. Because no vaccine is 100 percent effective and there are still many unknowns about the Covid-19 vaccines, including how long any immunity lasts, CNA advocates for practicing multiple measures of infection control as the safest and most effective. Imagine each measure like a slice of Swiss cheese: One slice on its own has holes that let the virus through, but multiple slices stacked together plug those holes and will stop the virus. Masking, distancing outside of your household, testing, contact tracing, ventilation and air filtration, good hygiene, vaccines, and more are all individual slices of cheese.
Instead, California’s approach relies almost exclusively upon vaccination as an infection control measure, upon people to self-disclose whether they have been vaccinated, and upon individual businesses and essential workers to determine the public’s vaccination status. “This is not sound public health strategy,” said Sandy Reding, RN and also a president of CNA. “And the burden should never fall upon essential workers, who have already borne a disproportionate share of infections and deaths, to be the vaccination police.” Focusing on vaccination status could also stigmatize people who choose to continue masking.
While CNA registered nurse members continue to be covered by the state’s aerosol transmissible diseases standard at work, we are concerned that the lack of infection control measures after June 15 will harm the health and safety of all workers and the general public.
“Nobody is forcing you to, but please just keep your masks on and avoid crowds,” said Reding. “It’s the safest thing to do for all Californians.”