California asks sick healthcare staff to come to work
Less than a month after issuing a strict vaccine mandate for healthcare workers, the California Department of Public health is now calling on workers with Covid-19 to come to work regardless, in a bid to cover staffing shortages.
According to new guidelines issued by the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) on Saturday, healthcare workers who test positive for Covid-19 will no longer have to isolate and can return to work immediately without a negative test, as long as they are not showing symptoms.
In a statement to NBC News, the CDPH described the new guidance as a “temporary tool” to mitigate staffing shortages and the increased demand being placed on healthcare providers due to a surge in Covid-19 cases. The CDPH added that hospitals should have workers with Covid-19 interact only with Covid-positive patients “to the extent possible.”
Healthcare workers and their unions have fiercely criticized the new policy.
“Healthcare workers and patients need the protection of clear rules guided by strong science. Allowing employers to bring back workers who may still be infectious is one of the worst ideas I have heard during this pandemic, and that’s really saying something,” Bob Schoonover of the California chapter of the SEIU trade union said.
Furthermore, the CDPH’s guidance also applies to workers in nursing homes, whose patients are most at risk of death from the virus. Nearly 10,000 residents of California nursing homes have died since the beginning of the pandemic, with deaths in these facilities accounting for 13% of the state’s total Covid death toll.
Before it was clearing the sick to return to work, the CDPH was asking hospitals to fire workers who wouldn’t get vaccinated or submit to twice-weekly testing. As of Friday, workers without a booster dose are considered unvaccinated by the CDPH. While a vaccine mandate has been in place in California since August, the CDPH said that it is “not aware of another state with such comprehensive requirements” after updating the order to require booster doses.
Though the CDPH said that its new booster requirement will not “take staff away from already busy hospitals,” California is not the only state suffering staffing shortages after issuing such rules. Rhode Island cleared infected staff to work in hospitals and nursing homes late last month after hundreds of employees were fired less than two months earlier for refusing to get vaccinated.
“Oh crap. We don’t have enough people,” one hospital worker told the Providence Journal as the post-mandate shortages became apparent.