California allowing COVID-positive health care workers to treat patients

With the highly infectious omicron variant continuing to surge, California is taking an unprecedented step to try to avoid an overwhelmed health care system: allowing doctors and nurses who test positive for the virus to return to treating patients immediately, so long as they are asymptomatic and masked up.

The move has drawn pushback from nurses’ unions, who staged rallies Thursday at Bay Area hospitals to demand more staffing and safer working conditions. Hospitals have said they will only take the step of bringing COVID-positive workers in if absolutely necessary. But that time could come sooner rather than later.

The roughly 51,000 people in hospital beds across California right now — including about 13,000 with COVID — has swelled to about what it was during last winter’s surge, and could rise by the end of January to 40% beyond last year’s peak, Carmela Coyle, president of the California Hospital Association, said during a call Thursday with reporters.

But unlike last year, the problem isn’t about having enough space and supplies for patients, Coyle said, but staff. As with restaurants and retail and other industries, even fully vaccinated and boosted health care workers are coming down with the virus.

And while there is evidence omicron is causing milder illness than previous versions of the coronavirus, hospitals continue to see a sharp rise in COVID patients, especially among the medically vulnerable, because so many people are becoming infected. Some patients come in for other issues and then test positive for COVID, but those patients still require isolation and extra care.

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The problem is compounded by the fact that some burned-out health care workers have quit or retired in the last year amid a pandemic that will not let up.

The upshot, Coyle said, is California’s health care system now “finds itself on the precipice of the most challenging time of the pandemic.” And, if current projections hold, she said, hospitals could be overwhelmed. “Our capabilities may soon be eclipsed.”

And it’s not just doctors and nurses calling in sick, but janitors, clerks, cooks and others who keep the hospitals running.

In the highly vaccinated Bay Area, many hospitals — including Stanford, UCSF, John Muir Health, Santa Clara County’s three-hospital system, and El Camino Health — said they have not yet had to resort to asking workers who test positive to return immediately.

Two of the region’s major health systems were less clear about their current practices. Sutter Health said “we are not implementing this option systemwide at this time,” while Kaiser Permanente did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

“If push comes to shove, some may do this on a case-by-case basis,” Coyle said, “but I think that really is a last-resort option. The health care leaders — hospital leaders — we’ve heard from have said they do not intend to implement that policy.”

The record surge of cases in California continues to climb, but is showing signs of slowing down. On Thursday, the state’s seven-day average for new cases reported daily rose to an all-time high over 110,000 on Thursday, after a …read more

Source:: The Mercury News – Entertainment

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