An incoming Biden administration could quickly implement new infection control standards that would require stronger protections for healthcare workers.
House Democrats have pushed to require the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to create an emergency temporary standard on infection control during the COVID-19 pandemic, as no such standard directly covering exposure to airborne or aerosol diseases in the workplace exists. Republicans have blocked the provision in all coronavirus-related stimulus legislation that has passed so far, but Democrats may get the standard anyway under a Biden administration.
President-Elect Joe Biden's campaign on April 16 called on OSHA to issue stricter infection control standards.
The American Hospital Association on Nov. 9 released talking points to argue against a unified national infection-control standard consistent with California's. California's standard would require employees at risk to be provided with respirators, not just surgical masks, according to the Congressional Research Service.
AHA argues that existing guidance from other agencies is sufficient, and painted a doomsday scenario if OSHA creates a new standard.
"Unions have reported filing numerous OSHA complaints against hospitals; such actions could force hospitals to dramatically reduce their inpatient capacity rather than potentially expose themselves to very large fines," the memo states.
National Nurses Union Political Director Ken Zinn said the group fully expects the Biden administration to move forward with an emergency temporary standard, and that NNU will offer its expertise to the new administration to ensure a strong, enforceable standard.
"This is about controlling and containing the virus so hospitals are safe places. If nurses aren't safe, the patients aren't safe," Zinn said.
David Michaels, a professor at George Washington University who served as OSHA assistant secretary under the Obama administration, said in a recent webinar that he expects Biden to issue an emergency temporary standard early in his tenure.
"Enforceable standards are OSHA's most powerful and effective tool for protecting workers. Most employers are law-abiding and try to meet requirements issued by government agencies even before inspectors knock on the door," Michaels wrote with Dr. Gregory Wagner, an adjunct professor at Harvard University.