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Nurses union asks CDC to recommend mask-wearing for everyone again

With COVID-19 cases on the rise across the country, National Nurses United says everyone should wear a mask, vaccinated or not.

DALLAS — As COVID-19 cases continue to rise in North Texas, and in most states across the country, the largest union of nurses in the U.S. is asking the CDC to recommend everyone wear masks again, whether they are vaccinated or not.

"It doesn't give us any pleasure to say, 'I told you so.' It just doesn't," said Jean Ross, RN and president of National Nurses United. The union represents more than 170,000 front line workers across the country.

In a six-page letter to CDC Director Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky, the organization asked the CDC to change its current guidance on mask-wearing and infection control related to COVID-19.

The CDC's current guidance, which says fully vaccinated people no longer need to wear a mask, "failed to account for the possibility—which preliminary data from the United Kingdom and Israel now indicates is likely—of infection and transmission of the virus, especially variants of concern, by fully vaccinated individuals," the letter reads. 

The current CDC guidance is as follows:  "fully vaccinated people can resume activities without wearing a mask or physically distancing, except where required by federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial laws, rules, and regulations, including local business and workplace guidance. except where required by federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial laws, rules, and regulations, including local business and workplace guidance."

The nurses union asked the CDC to reinstate the recommendation for everyone to wear masks, whether vaccinated or not, to update health care infection control to recognize COVID is spread by aerosol transmission, and to track infections in health care workers and the fully vaccinated.

"I understand the desire to have a 'nice summer,' but we are shooting ourselves in the foot," said Ross. "We see the handwriting on the wall here."

RELATED: COVID-19 hospitalizations in North Texas could reach summer 2020 levels, new data says

Some of that handwriting of concern can be found in North Texas as well. The North Texas hospital region, as of Thursday, has 700 COVID patients hospitalized. 

UT Southwestern Medical Center said that COVID-19 hospitalizations in Dallas County have increased by 40% over the past two weeks and predict that Dallas County alone could have 200 hospitalized COVID patients by Aug. 2.

UTSW said Tarrant County hospitalizations are up 65% over the past two weeks.

Still, even proponents of mask-wearing, like Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins, say that mask-wearing rules locally are not expected to change.

"It is a very good idea to wear a mask around other people with the Delta variant spreading through our community," said Jenkins. He said the county will still follow current CDC guidelines. 

"Yes, I think we should wear masks, especially if you're not vaccinated," added Stephen Love of the DFW Hospital Council, who also expects the current CDC guidelines to remain the standard. 

However, he and Jenkins still wear protective masks in certain crowded situations, although both are fully vaccinated.

"You should stay out of large crowds," he said. "Because you are very susceptible to catching this virus, especially with Delta."

But for a nurse on the frontlines like Jean Ross, mask-wearing is still part of her every day routine, even though she is fully vaccinated. She admits that airplane travel, for her, may now always involve wearing a protective mask. 

As of June 2021, an estimated 3,600 U.S. health care workers have died from COVID-19. 

"It really is unfair of the folks on the frontlines to put them through another fall and winter like we had last year," she said.

Thursday, Dallas County reported a total of 285 new positive COVID-19 cases and three more deaths.

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