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Short-Staffed US Hospitals Are Keeping COVID19 Infected Employees On the Clock

Short-Staffed US Hospitals Are Keeping COVID19 Infected Employees On the Clock

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. Nationwide, emergency and other public services have been severely impacted not just by communities in need, but due to their own staff calling out sick with COVID. Hospitals are not only swamped with cases but severely shorthanded because of so many employees out with COVID-19.

Last month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) 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. In reaction to the new guidelines along with severe medical staffing shortages and crushing caseloads that the Omicron variant is causing, hospitals around the U.S. are increasingly taking that extraordinary step, allowing vaccinated nurses and other workers infected with the coronavirus to stay on the job if they have mild symptoms or none at all. Infected workers will be required to wear extra-protective N95 masks and would be assigned to treat other COVID-19-positive patients,

At the same time, Omicron appears to be causing milder illness than the Delta variant, resulting in fewer and shorter hospital stays. And while some medical professionals are taking on the increasingly popular “everyone is going to get it” take on Omicron, others in the healthcare industry are firmly against the idea despite staffing shortages.

The 100,000-member California Nurses Association came out against the decision and warned it will lead to more infections, putting out a statement saying that Gov. Gavin Newsom and other state health leaders “are putting the needs of health care corporations before the safety of patients and workers.” The California 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.

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