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The U.S. CDC's Mask Guidance Ignores the Risks Workers Face Every Day

Jordan Barab and David Michaels
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The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) announcement last week that fully vaccinated people no longer have to wear masks or socially distance came as a great relief to millions of people who have been vaccinated. But it has also led to confusion and chaos in workplaces and other locations where vaccinated and unvaccinated people mix.

Public health agencies like CDC are charged with protecting the health of populations, not just individuals. With its recent masking recommendation, the CDC is forgetting its basic public health mission, holding back our efforts to stop the COVID-19 pandemic, and increasing the danger that workers face.

Workplaces are centers of virus transmission, and those who work in such environments have borne a tragic burden throughout the pandemic. While most white-collar workers have sheltered at home, performing their job tasks on Zoom and other video platforms, workers in health care, transportation, food processing, corrections, retail and other essential jobs have been forced to come to work every day, risking their safety and the safety of their loved ones.

While we may never know the exact number of work-related infections or deaths from COVID-19, we do know that the pandemic has taken a devastating toll on workers across key sectors. Some 90,000 workers at meatpacking plants, food processing facilities, and farms have tested positive for COVID-19 as of May 20, according to the Food & Environment Reporting Network. Major outbreaks across the country have been traced to virus transmission in meat processing, grocery stores, warehouses, farms and factories, where workers are in close proximity to each other or members of the public.

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