AFTNJ President Donna M. Chiera and HPAE Vice President Barbara Rosen were among the participants in a Jan. 24 virtual roundtable with U.S. Rep. Tom Malinowski about COVID-related challenges and strategies.

Rosen spoke first and delved into staffing shortages: “It’s horrendous in our nursing homes; it’s horrendous in our hospitals. And it’s not a safe situation for our patients at all, and it needs to be addressed.”

Vaccine messaging from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been “awful,” Rosen said. “There’s a lot of people out there thinking that if they’re vaccinated, they’re safe [and] they don’t have to wear masks in public — and it’s led to the spread of disease,” she added. Rosen also advocated for more testing of patients and staff at health care facilities.

“I have to agree with Barbara, but I’m going to turn it toward education,” Chiera said. “Not only do we have a shortage of teachers, but we’re having trouble retaining teachers.”

More COVID tests are available at schools, she noted, “but depending on the school district you’re in, it has become a political battle.” Chiera also brought up the confusion regarding the changes in social distancing at schools, the types of masks that should be worn and how much time COVID-positive students should spend in quarantine.

“But [what we’re sure of]: We need to get kids in school, we need to keep kids in school, we need to keep them safe and the staff safe,” Chiera said.

Also on hand for the roundtable was Eric Richard, legislative affairs director for the New Jersey State AFL-CIO, who engaged with Malinowski on the Build Back Better plan and the state and local tax (SALT) deduction.

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