Health officials around the US are increasingly taking extraordinary steps to allow nurses and other workers infected with the coronavirus to remain at work if they have mild symptoms or none at all.
The move is a response to a severe shortage of hospital staff and crushing caseloads caused by the Omicron variant.
California health officials announced over the weekend that hospital workers who test positive but are symptom free can continue to work. Some hospitals in Rhode Island and Arizona have also told employees they can stay at work if they have no symptoms or are just mild.
The highly contagious Omicron variant has sent more than 700,000 new cases of COVID-19 bursting into the US a day on average, eroding the record set a year ago. The number of Americans with the virus in hospital is running around 110,000, just short of a peak of 124,000 last January.
Many hospitals are not only overcrowded with cases, but too many staff have been severely shorthanded because of COVID-19.
Also, Omicron causes milder disease than the Delta type.
Last month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said health care workers who have no symptoms can return to work after seven days with a negative test, but further reduction in isolation times if staffing shortages. can.
France announced last week that it was allowing health care workers to treat patients with mild or no symptoms rather than isolating them.
In the Phoenix area, Dignity Health, a major hospital operator, sent a memo to staff members saying that people infected with the virus who feel well enough to work should ask their managers to care for patients. Can request permission to return. Dignity Health hospitals in California have yet to implement the new guidelines, but said they may need to do so in the coming days and weeks.
Dignity Health said in a statement, “We are making every effort to ensure that our employees can return to work safely and protect our patients and staff from infection with COVID-19. “
In California, the Department of Public Health said the new policy was driven by a “critical staffing shortage.” It asked hospitals to make every effort to fill the openings by bringing in staff from outside staffing agencies.
In addition, infected workers would be required to wear additional protective N95 masks and be assigned to treat other COVID-19 positive patients, the department said.
“We did not ask for this guidance, and we have no information about whether hospitals will adopt this approach,” said Jan Emerson-Shea, a spokesman for the California Hospital Association. “But what we do know is that hospitals are expecting many more patients in the coming days than with existing resources.”
Emerson-Xi said many hospital workers have been exposed to the virus, and are either sick or caring for family members.
The 100,000-member California Nurses Association came out against the decision and warned it would lead to more infections.
Gavin Newsom and other state health leaders are “putting the needs of health care corporations before the safety of patients and workers,” Association President Cathy Kennedy said in a statement. “We want to take care of our patients and see them get better – not potentially infecting them.”
Earlier this month in Rhode Island, a state psychiatric hospital and a rehabilitation center allowed employees who had tested positive for COVID-19 but were asymptomatic to work.
At Miami’s Jackson Memorial Hospital, Chief Medical Officer Dr. Honey Atallah said they are not at the breaking point yet and that the staff who tested positive are staying away for five days. “We still have to be very careful to stop the spread in the hospital,” he said.
Kevin Cho Tipton, a nurse at Jackson Memorial, said he understands why hospital staff are eager to return after five days of isolation. Yet he is concerned about the potential risk, especially for patients at high risk of infection, such as those receiving transplants.
“Yes, Omicron is less lethal, but we still don’t know much,” he said.