Due to near-constant exposure to patients with COVID-19, healthcare workers have a high risk of contracting the coronavirus. Healthcare professionals and researchers have remained concerned about safety as the number of coronavirus cases rises. Also, uncertainties during the COVID-19 pandemic have resulted in conflicting advice on when and how exposed healthcare workers should be able to return to work. Here is a collection of summarized guidelines to help answer this question.
Concern for Healthcare Workers
As the COVID-19 pandemic progresses, staffing shortages will likely occur due to HCP exposures, illness, or the need to care for family members at home. (source: cdc.gov). This is especially concerning to healthcare professionals as 1 in 4 workers excluded or exempted from emergency paid sick leave are healthcare workers. That, coupled with the fact that only 17.2% of Americans were covered by Medicare in 2017 goes to show the severity of the potential danger that medical staff could face should they contract the virus. In late May, the CDC estimated that more than 63,000 healthcare personnel had contracted COVID-19, so it’s all the more important to address this concern. (source: kff.org)
Now, avoidance of any healthcare worker contracting COVID is ideal. So it goes without saying that implementing proper health and safety practices is absolutely essential in hospitals and other medical centers. Having proper equipment at hand for healthcare workers is critical to protect and contain the spread of the virus in case an infection inadvertently arrives.
However, just 30% of healthcare workers said their employer has sufficient protective equipment on hand to protect staff if there were a surge in infected patients, which is concerning, given the risks associated with COVID-19. (source: npr.org)
The CDC has put together an extensive set of guidelines for healthcare workers to understand deeply what constitutes a risk of infection for healthcare personnel, and a separate set of guidelines on the criteria for them to return to work.
Among these guidelines, the CDC cites that the most severe to critical cases should follow a quarantine of at least 10 days or up to 20 days having passed since symptoms first appeared. Since plenty of observed cases point out that some patients – who have tested positive for the virus – haven’t experienced any symptoms, it’s paramount to ensure that the virus doesn’t secretly spread after the person stops experiencing symptoms. This is why healthcare staff whose condition falls on the severe end of the spectrum must remain quarantined, even after they stop sensing any symptoms.
Finally, we arrive at the best course of action. Concurrently, a symptom-based approach of allowing at least 24 hours pass after the most recent fever without the use of fever-reducing medications, and the presence of symptoms (e.g., cough, shortness of breath) has proven to be the most reliable method of gauging whether or not a healthcare worker should be quarantined.
This will best ensure that hospitals don’t experience an outbreak in coronavirus cases, protecting the rest of the hospital staff and allowing them to continue administering the care patients need during these trying times.