House Republicans are questioning the Biden administration’s prerogative to continue promulgating a COVID-19 standard aimed at protecting health care workers following the president’s comments that the “pandemic is over.”
In a letter to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration on Monday, Reps. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., ranking member of the House Education and Labor Committee, and Fred Keller, R-Pa., ranking member of the committee’s workforce protections panel, wrote it “is the height of foolishness” that OSHA is continuing to move forward with the COVID standard following Biden’s remarks during the “60 Minutes” interview aired on September 18. “It is overdue for Washington bureaucrats to stop using the pandemic as a pretense to increase top-down federal control over the workplace,” the Republican lawmakers said.
OSHA issued an emergency temporary standard for COVID-19 for health care workers in June 2021, but then withdrew most of the rule’s requirements in December 2021 and started the process of creating a permanent standard to protect health care workers from exposure to the coronavirus.
During the “60 Minutes” interview Biden said: “The pandemic is over. We still have a problem with COVID. We’re still doing a lot of work on it. But the pandemic is over. If you notice, no one’s wearing masks. Everybody seems to be in pretty good shape. And so, I think it’s changing. And I think this is a perfect example of it.”
Foxx and Keller also wrote the OSHA standard would lead to “widespread confusion among health care employers and workers” as guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention evolves. Finally, they questioned the agency’s authority to continue to work on this regulation, arguing officials haven’t followed the correct procedure in accordance with the 1970 Occupational Safety and Health Act.
Overall, Foxx and Keller urged OSHA to cease working on this standard and alert them in writing by October 11 that it has done so.
Government Executive asked OSHA and the Democrats on the House Education and Labor Committee for comment, but they did not respond by the time of this article’s publication.
Doug Parker, assistant secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health, said on Safety + Health Magazine’s podcast that aired on September 20 that in terms of regulatory action, “our most immediate action is working on the COVID-19 rule–finalizing our rule for health care,” and “we’re hoping to get that done very soon.”
Additionally, “the agency plans to eventually replace it with a standard on infectious diseases, also for the health care industry,” Andrew Levinson, director of OSHA’s Directorate of Standards and Guidance, said last week as reported by Safety + Health Magazine. “That standard would cover not only airborne diseases such as COVID-19 and tuberculosis, but also non-airborne diseases such as [methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus] and monkeypox.”
Despite the opposition to this standard from Republicans and certain other groups, there has also been support.
David Michaels, professor at The George Washington University School of Public Health who headed OSHA from 2009 to 2017, told Government Executive on Tuesday: “Whatever the state of the pandemic, health care workers need to be protected from SARS-CoV-2, as well as influenza, [tuberculosis], and other airborne infections. Whether or not we are in a ‘state of emergency,’ an OSHA standard requiring health care employers to implement worker protocols is badly needed.”
The OSHA situation is one of several COVID-19 policies Republicans have implored the Biden administration to end in light of the president’s remarks during the interview.
When asked about a letter from a top Republican senator during a briefing last week, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said the president was “clear” in the interview that we have to keep fighting COVID-19, but “he believes … we can acknowledge the massive amount of progress that we have made. Just think about where we were when this president walked into this administration; where again a response to this once-in-a-generation pandemic was mismanaged by the last administration.”