Calif. health care workers who are asymptomatic with COVID won't have to test or isolate to work

SAN FRANCISCO -- California health care workers won't have to isolate or test negative to go back to work if they are asymptomatic until February 1.

As omicron cases continue to surge and hospital staffing shortages increase across the state, California's department of public health is changing its COVID isolation guidelines.

"If we have a nurse that calls out what that means for us is that we can't open a zone in the emergency department that we would've been able to open," said Dr. Maria Raven, chief of Emergency Medicine at UCSF Parnassus Campus, adding, "We feel like if people don't have symptoms they should be able to come to work."

This change is going against the CDC's recommendation for anyone who tests positive to isolate for 5 days with or without symptoms.

RELATED: San Francisco health department to reduce COVID testing site hours due to staffing shortages

Dr. Maria Raven believes this change will play a crucial role in alleviating the statewide health care staffing shortage.

"We know that in 2020 before there were even vaccines, the rate of transmission from providers to patients that has been documented has been miniscule," said Dr. Raven and added, "So, now in the age of vaccines and boosters and PPE, we feel like if somebody has a negative COVID test even if they have some symptoms you know given the shortages they should be able to come to work."

California's Department of Public Health is requiring hospitals to opt for this option after exhausting every other option and requiring asymptomatic health care workers to wear N95 masks at all times.

The state's health department elaborates on their change by explaining in part, "Facilities and providers using this tool, should have asymptomatic COVID-19 positive workers interact only with COVID-19 positive patients, to the extent possible."

RELATED: Some Bay Area families wait 7+ hours for PCR COVID testing

The California nurses association believes this change will put patients and hospital staff at risk.

"We are all starting to brace once again for another surge. It's so exhausting and we're morality distressed," said Zenei Triunfo-Cortez, President California Nurses Association.

Triunfo-Cortez is asking for Governor Newson to reinstate the isolation period for asymptomatic health care workers.

"For us to go to work knowing that we are infected with the virus even if we do not have the symptoms. We know that we can potentially infect our patients and that is not right," said Triunfo-Cortez.

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