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New COVID guidance asks healthcare workers to continue working even if positive

"It’s going to be harmful"
Posted: 4:39 PM, Jan 12, 2022
Updated: 2022-01-13 12:04:06-05
uchealth nurse.jpg

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — They are often referred to as “healthcare heroes,” and as medical professionals navigate their working environment caused by staffing shortages, they are being asked to continue working, even if they test positive themselves. New guidance that went into effect on Saturday said healthcare workers who are COVID positive, or exposed to the virus but asymptomatic, can return to work immediately without testing.

While this change is meant to help with the ongoing staffing shortage some say it will only make things worse.  

“I think that’s detrimental to both patients, as well as the workforce, because then we’ll be exposed even more, and oftentimes the caregiver may be giving care to a non-positive COVID patient,” said Sandy Reding, president of California Nurses Association.

From vaccine mandates to changing COVID isolation and quarantine guidelines, healthcare workers across the state are being asked to make changes amid the ongoing pandemic.

The latest change, issued Saturday, from the California Department of Public Health says: “Due to the critical staffing shortages currently being experienced across the health care continuum because of the rise in the omicron variant, effective January 8, 2022, through February 1, 2022, CDPH is temporarily adjusting the return-to-work criteria.”  

But Memorial Hospital Nurse and president of the California Nurses Association, Sandy Reding, believes this could cause more nurses to get sick themselves.  

“We want to be able to take care of our patients, but we also don’t want to bring this home to our families or get sick ourselves because if we’re all out sick, who’s going to care for our patients.”  

The change says, if healthcare workers are COVID positive or exposed to the virus, they can return to work without quarantine or testing but must wear an N-95 mask. But Heather Vanhousen, patient care executive with Adventist Health Kern County, said they will apply the rules on a case-by-case basis.

“We would not want to have staff who are positive necessarily taking care of someone who is immunocompromised, so I think we have to look at the individual situation and then use clinical thinking and judgment to apply the rules.”  

Vanhousen added while they have seen shortages in staff due to COVID, they are still able to continue providing care to the community without implementing the new guidelines at this time.  

“We have had shortages in some areas, for now, we’ve been able to keep all services running. They may be at a scaled-back version, but we’ve had all our services running at the point.”  

When it comes to the shortage of workers, Reding said the problem is that some nurses don’t want to stay in their positions because of the conditions they have to work under, and this regulation won’t help.  

“This added exposure is just going to mean more sick calls, less nurses and healthcare professionals at the bedside and it’s going to be a downward spiral and it’s not going to be helpful; it’s going to be harmful for ourselves and our patients.”

At the end of the day, healthcare professionals just want to deliver care to the community.  

“We want to take care of our patients and be there for them and we don’t want to have the moral distress that goes along with our jobs, because we can’t get there in time or we can’t do enough for them because we are spread too thin,” Reding said.  

It’s important to note that the recommendation has several layers, so hospitals have the option to implement the changes if they are facing a shortage of workers.