COVID-positive California nurses fear returning to work without testing or isolation

Los Angeles County nurses are speaking out against a policy they say will force COVID-positive healthcare workers and others who have been exposed to the virus back to work before they feel it’s safe to return.

The county denies adopting such a policy.

The employees, represented by SEIU Local 721, will hold a press conference Tuesday, Jan. 11 at the Kenneth Hahn Hall of Administration to voice their concerns. Union officials also plan to testify at Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting.

New state guidance

The planned event follows newly released guidance from the California Department of Public Health (CDPH).

The guidance, which runs Jan. 8 through Feb. 1, says COVID-19 positive employees and others who may have been exposed to the virus “can return to work immediately without isolation and without testing” as long as they are asymptomatic and wear protective N95 respirators.

In a Jan. 8 email to employees, Brad Spelling, chief medical officer at Los Angeles County + USC Medical Center, said the CDPH guidelines recognize critical staffing shortages in California, adding that it “allows us to return to work all asymptomatic workforce who have tested positive or been exposed, without further isolation or testing.”

Spelling said returning employees must continue to wear the N95 respirators until they clear a 10-day isolation period.

Guidelines have not been adopted

But in a statement issued late Monday, the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services said the county is reviewing the state’s proposed guidelines but has not adopted or issued an official policy regarding them.

“It is important to underscore that the guidance provided by CDPH is not a mandate for hospital systems, but rather a set of guidelines that hospitals can take into consideration when adjusting return to work criteria,” the statement said.

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The department said it will continue to make adjustments that follow data-driven science and uphold its responsibility to the well-being of staff, patients and the communities it serves.

Still, nurses who say they’ve put their lives on the line to keep the county functional throughout the pandemic, fear the county will adhere to the state guidelines, putting vulnerable patients and frontline workers at risk.

“Our patients have a right to know that their caregivers may be COVID positive,” said Kelly Zhou, a nurse anesthesiologist who has worked at Los Angeles County + USC Medical Center for 25 years. “We care for a population that is extremely vulnerable to mutiple medical conditions.”

Zhou acknowledged the N95 masks help but said they provide no guarantee that patients and coworkers won’t get infected with the virus.

“That’s our concern,” she said. “We’re not getting paid to stay home when we’re COVID positive and I know people count on their paychecks. I know people have to feed their families — but our patients are also our family.”

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Source:: The Mercury News – Entertainment


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