California hospitals were given the go-ahead to force their staff who test positive for Wuhan coronavirus (COVID-19) but remain asymptomatic to keep working and not go into quarantine in a bid to deal with severe staffing shortages in the state.
According to the latest guidance from the California Department of Public Health (CDPH), COVID-19 positive healthcare workers who remain asymptomatic will no longer be required to undergo quarantine or present a negative COVID-19 test to go back to work if they are fully vaccinated.
They must remain asymptomatic when they return to work. They will be required to wear N95-type respirator face masks at all times and must only work with other patients who have also tested positive for COVID-19.
“The department is providing temporary flexibility to help hospitals and emergency services providers respond to an unprecedented surge and staffing shortages,” wrote the CDPH in a statement. “Hospitals have to exhaust all other options before resorting to this temporary tool. Facilities and providers using this tool, should have asymptomatic COVID-19 positive workers interact only with COVID-19 positive patients to the extent possible.”
This temporary order will be enforced until Feb. 1.
California has struggled with staffing issues in its hospitals and other healthcare facilities as the post-vaccine omicron variant spreads through the highly vaccinated state. About 40 percent of hospitals in the state are expected to face critical shortages.
The state’s vaccine mandates led to thousands of healthcare workers being fired from their jobs, exacerbating the situation. Health giant Kaiser Permanente alone suspended more than 2,000 unvaccinated employees in October and warned that those who remain unvaccinated will be fired this month. (Related: California struggles to control coronavirus infections despite employing strict measures.)
The staffing situation has gotten so bad that Gov. Gavin Newsom has called on the California National Guard to help man stations in over 50 COVID-19 testing sites across the state. He is planning to deploy more in the following days. Healthcare workers assigned to these testing sites will be redeployed to hospitals.
The decision to let asymptomatic healthcare workers keep doing rounds in hospitals has caused intense criticism among healthcare workers, healthcare-related associations and trade unions in the state.
“It’s scary,” said Dennis Anderson, a 20-year veteran medical technologist working in Folsom, near Sacramento. “The thought that we could be transmitting COVID-19 to the people we care for every day.”
“When you step into an ER or walk through the ICU, people are getting that deja vu,” he continued. “The state might be compromising workplace safety precautions at a time when we should be supporting healthcare workers.”
“It’s counter-productive. It’s dangerous, and it’s actually backwards to everything we’re doing right now,” said ultrasound technician Georgette Bradford.
“We are very concerned,” said Sandy Reding, a board member of the California Nurses Association (CNA). “If you have healthcare workers who are COVID positive care for vulnerable populations, we can spread the COVID virus inside the hospital as well.”
“If we are going to set up for the surge, let’s set up protocols to have transmission reduced,” she continued. “Which means not have COVID positive people come to work.”
“Gov. Newsom and our state’s public health leaders are putting the needs of healthcare corporations before the safety of patients and workers,” said Cathy Kennedy, president of the CNA. “We want to care for our patients and see them get better – not potentially infect them. If we get sick, who will be left to care for our patients and community?”
Bob Schoonover, president and executive director of the California branch of the Service Employees International Union, said that California’s new guidance is unscientific.
“Healthcare workers and patients need the protection of clear rules guided by strong science,” he said. “Allowing employers to bring back workers who may still be infectious is one of the worst ideas I have ever heard during this pandemic, and that’s really saying something.”
Watch this video about a hospital in California running out of space to store bodies of dead COVID-19 patients.
Learn more about the catastrophic situation in California at Collapsifornia.com.
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