US hospitals letting infected staff members stay on the job

US hospitals letting infected staff members stay on the job


US hospitals letting infected staff members stay on the job
Registered nurse Sara Nystrom, of Townshend, Vt., prepares to enter a patient’s room in the COVID-19 Intensive Care Unit at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, in Lebanon, N.H., Jan. 3, 2022. The omicron variant has caused a surge of new cases of COVID-19 in the U.S. and many hospitals are not only swamped with cases but severely shorthanded because of so many employees out with COVID-19. Credit: AP Photo/Steven Senne, File

Hospitals around the U.S. are increasingly taking the extraordinary step of allowing nurses and other workers infected with the coronavirus to stay on the job if they have mild symptoms or none at all.

The move is a reaction to the severe hospital staffing shortages and crushing caseloads that the omicron variant is causing.

California health authorities announced over the weekend that hospital staff members who test positive but are symptom-free can continue working. Some hospitals in Rhode Island and Arizona have likewise told employees they can stay on the job if they have no symptoms or just mild ones.

The highly contagious omicron variant has sent new cases of COVID-19 exploding to over 700,000 a day in the U.S. on average, obliterating the record set a year ago. The number of Americans in the hospital with the virus is running at about 108,000, just short of the peak of 124,000 last January.

Many hospitals are not only swamped with cases but severely shorthanded because of so many employees out with COVID-19.

At the same time, omicron appears to be causing milder illness than the delta variant.

Last month, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention said that health care workers who have no symptoms can return to work after seven days with a negative test, but that the isolation time can be cut further if there are staffing shortages.

US hospitals letting infected staff members stay on the job
Registered nurse Nvard Termendzhyan, center, sets up a table for Linda Calderon, right, as her twin sister Natalie Balli, left, rests in her bed in a COVID-19 unit at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in Los Angeles, Dec. 13, 2021. Hospitals around the U.S. are increasingly taking the extraordinary step of allowing nurses and other workers infected with the coronavirus to stay on the job if they have mild symptoms or none at all. Credit: AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File

France last week announced it is allowing health care workers with mild or no symptoms to keep treating patients rather than isolate.

In the Phoenix area, Dignity Health, a major hospital operator, sent a memo to staff members saying those infected with the virus who feel well enough to work may request clearance from their managers to go back to caring for patients.

“We are doing everything we can to ensure our employees can safely return to work while protecting our patients and staff from the transmissibility of COVID-19,” Dignity Health said in a statement.

In California, the Department of Public Health said the new policy was prompted by “critical staffing shortages.” It asked hospitals to make every attempt to fill openings by bringing in employees from outside staffing agencies.

Also, infected workers will be required to wear extra-protective N95 masks and should be assigned to treat other COVID-19-positive patients, the department said.

  • US hospitals letting infected staff members stay on the job
    Clinical Nurse Supervisor Melinda Chapin, of Holderness, N.H., right, departs an isolation room while Edward Merrens, left, chief clinical officer at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health, visits a COVID-19 patient at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, in Lebanon, N.H., Jan. 3, 2022. The omicron variant has caused a surge of new cases of COVID-19 in the U.S. and many hospitals are not only swamped with cases but severely shorthanded because of so many employees out with COVID-19. Credit: AP Photo/Steven Senne, File
  • US hospitals letting infected staff members stay on the job
    A nurse suits up with protective gear before entering a patient’s room at the COVID-19 Intensive Care Unit at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, in Lebanon, N.H., Jan. 3, 2022. The omicron variant has caused a surge of new cases of COVID-19 in the U.S. and many hospitals are not only swamped with cases but severely shorthanded because of so many employees out with COVID-19. Credit: AP Photo/Steven Senne, File
  • US hospitals letting infected staff members stay on the job
    Lori Pond, left, a certified nursing assistant, removes protective gear after stepping out of a patient’s room in the COVID-19 Intensive Care Unit at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, in Lebanon, N.H., Jan. 3, 2022. The omicron variant has caused a surge of new cases of COVID-19 in the U.S. and many hospitals are not only swamped with cases but severely shorthanded because of so many employees out with COVID-19. Credit: AP Photo/Steven Senne, File

The 100,000-member California Nurses Association came out against the decision and warned it will lead to more infections.

Gov. Gavin Newsom and other state health leaders “are putting the needs of health care corporations before the safety of patients and workers,” Cathy Kennedy, the association’s president, said in a statement. “We want to care for our patients and see them get better—not potentially infect them.”

Earlier this month in Rhode Island, a state psychiatric hospital and a rehabilitation center allowed staff who tested positive for COVID-19 but were asymptomatic to work.


France allows some COVID-19-infected medics to keep working


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