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Healthcare workers concerned about shorter isolation after Covid infections

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Healthcare workers concerned about shorter isolation after Covid infections

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Melody Butler, a registered nurse in New York City, woke up on Boxing Day with a headache, chest tightness and feeling unwell – a quick home test confirmed she was positive for Covid. Eight days later, she returned to work at the hospital, still a little tired and ready to wear full protective gear to prevent any potential spread.

As the highly transmissible variant of omicron took hold and spread throughout the holidays, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week revised its isolation recommendations, reducing isolation time for asymptomatic healthcare workers 10 to 7 days with a negative test – or fewer days “if there is a staff shortage.” ”

Out of caution and concern, Butler, who is fully vaccinated, weighed his options to decide when it was safe to return to work. But, she said, knowing how overwhelmed her colleagues were with understaffing, she only increased the pressure on her to come back.

The hospital “informed me of the new recommendations, but they told me, ‘You come back to work when you feel ready,'” said Butler, 35. “I didn’t feel threatened, but I know how tight the staff is right now. I’m very aware of the number of people who are sick.

Healthcare workers across the country once again find themselves at the forefront of yet another wave of Covid-19, but this time many are sidelined after testing positive, leading to a nationwide shortage of hospital staff. Hospital staff now find themselves distinguishing between patient safety and care and staff shortages when trying to decide when it is safe to return to work after a Covid infection.

“You want to be as safe as possible and reduce the spread of the virus, but you don’t want your healthcare infrastructure to collapse completely or suffer too much from unnecessary isolation,” Franklin Rosenblat, infectious disease physician in Michigan, mentioned. “Many health workers have tested positive for Covid, and there have been staff shortages due to the number of hospital workers affected. “

As his hospital discussed with its staff the development of policies for workers positive for Covid after the holidays, he spent much of Monday answering questions from nurses who tested positive or feared they would test positive. .

“I think the main fear is still for our patients,” Rosenblat said. “Nurses have a particularly close bond with their patients, and they want to make sure that they don’t put patients at risk, so anxiety is really something I have to respect as they have the best interests of the patient. patient first and foremost in their minds. “

He recommends doing a quick test if possible before returning to work and wearing personal protective equipment – an N95 mask, goggles, face shield and gloves – after a shorter quarantine. These measures, he said, are proven mitigation strategies for healthcare workers and patients. And symptomatic people, he said, no matter how mild the symptoms are, should “absolutely stay home.”

The number of cases has increased across the country, with the United States reaching 1 million new cases of Covid on Monday, according to data from NBC News.

For several weeks now, Rosenblat, 59, has been coming to work to find emergency rooms full of patients. He said he was used to the breakneck pace of the pandemic and had treated more than 100 Covid patients since March 2020. But, he added, the past few weeks have been the most worrying so far. .

Anna Bershteyn, assistant professor in the population health department at New York University’s Grossman School of Medicine, stressed the need to be careful after leaving isolation and quarantine.

“What people often forget is that you don’t just go back to what you were doing,” she said. “After five days, you have to wear a mask and take social distance. You can go out and do these essential things, but you have to be careful when doing them. “

Bershteyn said she wanted to reassure the public that the CDC’s changing recommendations for isolation are based on data and research compiled over nearly two years. At the end of November 2020, a study by researchers at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, published in the peer-reviewed journal Lancet Microbe, found that the viral load of SARS-CoV-2 peaked in the upper respiratory tract during the first five days after symptom onset.

She also said that while the recommended isolation periods are now shorter, the return-to-work recommendations for people who are immunosuppressed or symptomatic outlined on the CDC website are a bit more stringent, offering a strategy based on Covid testing and consultation with infectious disease specialists.

But in the short term, according to Bershteyn, as long as the recommendations are backed by data and people keep the most vulnerable in mind, she is hopeful for months to come.

“The goal is not zero transmission; the point is to get us through it all, ”she said. “Let’s maintain essential services while reducing transmission. “

As the country continues to navigate the spread of new variants, hospitals must find alternative methods to bolster their staff, said Miles Corak, professor of economics at the Graduate Center at the City University of New York. With much of his research on inequality, he said recruiting more staff may leave room to address the concerns of current health workers, who are feeling two years of exhaustion and fear. He suggested rehiring newly retired healthcare workers with higher pay or improving working conditions, hospital ratios and pay, for all staff, so more people apply.

“To a certain extent, we are sort of faced with the consequences of many structural forces,” he said. “We don’t pay as much attention to workers as we do to other forms of investment. “

Although Butler said she was lucky enough to return to work when she felt comfortable, she is concerned that as cases increase and more health workers are positive, people are going back to work sooner than they should.

“My concerns are that if a healthcare worker is sick and is made aware of the new return-to-work policy, they may feel pressured to come back sooner than they are physically able to,” a- she declared. “And it’s really important that they listen to their bodies and make sure they meet the criteria to return to work.”

Healthcare workers concerned about shorter isolation after Covid infections

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