Healthy patients are getting infected with Covid-19 in hospitals because infected healthcare workers are sick on the job, experts say
The number of new Covid-19 cases is not going to go down anytime soon as many health experts believe that the country will reach the peak of the Omicron wave next month. While some states are seeing slowing trend in new cases, hospitals and businesses are having hard times to stay operational because of staffing shortages.
The Omicron variant is by far the most contagious variant of the Covid-19 virus so far and it easily evades both natural and vaccine immunity making it almost impossible to stay safe of getting infected. That resulted with record high numbers of new cases since the start of the year despite the decent vaccination rate.
However, a relief factor is that those infected with Omicron will have no to mild symptoms in most of the cases. Those who end up in hospital, usually have much shorter stay compared to the previous variants of the virus.
Taking into consideration all the above, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated the quarantine policies, shortening the quarantine period for healthcare workers to only seven days for those who won’t develop symptoms. But now, experts claim those who return at work after this ‘short quarantine period’ may infect other people since they are still not fully recovered from the virus.
According to Business Insider, the policy applies to people who are asymptomatic, or whose mild or moderate symptoms are improving, and test negative within 48 hours of returning to work. But the CDC said the isolation period could be cut even more — down to five days — in the event of staffing shortages. In that case, healthcare workers wouldn’t need to test out of isolation. And in a crisis scenario, when there’s no longer enough staff to provide safe patient care, there would be no work restrictions at all, the CDC said.
Since healthcare workers are the most exposed to the virus, hospitals have been the most affected with staffing shortages and they are having hard times to remain open and fully operational. With CDC policies, hospitals can choose on themselves to operate with Covid-positive healthcare workers in case of staffing shortage.
And now experts warn that the CDC policy is fueling in-hospital transmission, since research shows that some people with COVID-19 can still be infectious for up to 10 days.
“It’s a little bit of pandemic theater. You’re making the decision to bring healthcare workers back when they’re sick,” Susan Butler-Wu, an associate professor of clinical pathology at the University of Southern California, told Insider last month. “I don’t think the data support that.”
A week after the CDC’s announcement on December 23, the total number of hospitalized patients who contracted COVID-19 at least two weeks into their hospital stay went up 80% — from around 1,200 to 2,200 patients — according to HHS data.
According to Dr. Jorge Caballero, a data scientist with the nonprofit Coders Against COVID, all of those patients came to hospitals seeking treatment for something else rather than Covid-19. They initially were not infected with the virus when admitted to hospital and later, ended up positives. “The only place that they can possibly get COVID is in the hospital, because that’s where they’ve been and they didn’t have it to begin with,” Caballero said.
Dr. Jeremy Faust, an emergency medicine physician, said that he agrees with Dr. Caballero when it comes to infecting healthy patients in the hospitals. He also said that many hospitals start to implement CDC’s guidelines even before they reach critical staffing shortages. When hospitals have to choose between nothing and bringing back workers sooner than they should and wear face masks, they choose the latter leading to increasing risk of spreading the virus.
Earlier this month, Business Insider spoke with two nurses who said they are petrified of the fact that they are asked to work while Covid-positive infecting other, healthy patients with the virus in a situation where face masks, even the best ones, don’t always work as expected.
As of writing of this article, the 7-day average in United States is 744,616 cases which is 5% less compared to the previous week when this number was 783,922 (reference date – Jan. 19). As of January 19, there have been a total of 68,671,563 COVID-19 cases since the start of the pandemic.