New California Order Permits COVID-19 Positive Health Care Workers to Return to Work

By Jamie Joseph
Jamie Joseph
Jamie Joseph
Jamie Joseph is a California-based reporter for The Epoch Times. She is an avid tea drinker, foodie, and chronic reader of thriller novels.
January 10, 2022 Updated: January 17, 2022

Under a new temporary guideline to combat the surge in COVID-19 patients, the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) will allow health care workers to work if they’ve tested positive for COVID-19.

The new order will run until Feb. 1, and it only applies to asymptomatic cases. It was issued because of the spread of the Omicron coronavirus variant, which has caused staffing shortages in all sectors, including nursing. The spread is beginning to cause most hospitals to fill capacity.

“Given those conditions, [we are] providing temporary flexibility to help hospitals and emergency services providers respond to an unprecedented surge and staffing shortages,” a spokesperson from CDPH said in an emailed statement.

“Hospitals have to exhaust all other options before resorting to this temporary tool. Facilities and providers using this tool should have asymptomatic COVID-19 positive workers interact only with COVID-19 positive patients, to the extent possible, and ensure the workers are always wearing N-95 respirators.”

Epoch Times Photo
A hospital staff member peers through the window of an outside tent area of Hoag Hospital in Irvine, Calif., on Dec. 11, 2020. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

According to the new rule, health care workers with the virus can return to work immediately without isolation or testing and should be assigned to work with COVID-19 positive patients outside of emergency settings.

But not everyone agrees with the new guideline.

The California Nurses Association (CNA) is calling on California Gov. Gavin Newsom to rescind the decision, citing safety concerns.

“Governor Newsom and our state’s public health leaders are putting the needs of health care corporations before the safety of patients and workers,” CNA President Cathy Kennedy said in a Jan. 8 statement. “We want to care for our patients and see them get better—not potentially infect them. Sending nurses and other health care workers back to work while infected is dangerous.”

California was the first state to implement a strict COVID-19 vaccine mandate for health care workers. Those who didn’t abide by the mandate were suspended or terminated.

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A nurse recieves a COVID-19 vaccination at St. Joseph Hospital in Orange, Calif., on Dec. 16, 2020. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

The shifting guidelines come days after the state mandated that all health care workers must receive a COVID-19 vaccine booster shot by Feb. 1.

A nurse, who asked to remain anonymous out of fear of losing her job, told The Epoch Times that when she was first made aware of the new guidelines, her initial reaction was confusion.

“The narrative by hospital administration prior to these new guidelines were enacted was ‘get vaccinated or be let go,’ and we know that this is exactly what happened to many nurses,” she said.

It isn’t clear if the new rule will help stave off potential shortages of care or only add to increasing sickness from the virus. But many nurses have had enough, according to a 2021 report by the University of California–San Francisco (UCSF) Health Workforce Research Center on Long-Term Care. Data analysis in the report indicates that many older registered nurses have already left the profession, and many intend to retire or quit within the next two years.

Anecdotal reports cited in the UCSF report also found that nurses quit during the pandemic out of fear of contracting COVID-19. Others walked away from their jobs to recover emotionally from the high stress of working during a pandemic.

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Health care workers at St. Joseph Hospital in Orange, Calif., on Dec. 16, 2020. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

Meanwhile, fewer people are enrolling in school to become nurses, according to the report.

The nurse—who spent most of 2020 living in an Airbnb so she wouldn’t infect her family at home at the then height of transmissions—said she can’t speak to the science behind asymptomatic spread, but that it’s time for hospital administrators to advocate for their employees and put “politics and agendas aside” so nurses can do their jobs.

“My fear is, particularly within the nursing community, we’ve allowed the overwhelming noise and heartbreak from multiple angles to harden our hearts,” she said.

Jamie Joseph
Jamie Joseph is a California-based reporter for The Epoch Times. She is an avid tea drinker, foodie, and chronic reader of thriller novels.