California Healthcare Workers Can Return To Work Despite Positive COVID-19 Test

Kamari Esquerra

As COVID-19 cases continue to surge, California’s Department of Public Health is making changes to its isolation guidelines.

“What this new guideline allows hospitals to do is continue to care for all patients,” said Dr. Shunling Tsang, Deputy Public Health Officer for Riverside County.

California healthcare workers who test positive for COVID-19 won’t have to isolate or test negative to go back to work if they are asymptomatic. This new change goes against the CDC’s current recommendation for anyone who tests positive to isolate for 5 days with or without symptoms to prevent further spread. Despite this, local health officials say COVID positive healthcare workers who are asymptomatic can return to work, a change they say is needed to alleviate the statewide healthcare staffing shortage.

“This isn’t the kind of work where you can just find somebody to substitute- they’re not available,” said Dr. Euthym Kontaxis of Eisenhower Health.

This change will also assist in continuing to provide care for all hospital patients.

“This allows us in the healthcare setting in CA to utilize our already stretched resources to make sure we can still care for patients,”said Dr. Tsang. 

“For all intents and purposes, that’s pretty safe,” said Dr. Kontaxis. “It’s a little milder, we don’t see the hospitalization work like we were a year ago. I think it’s a reasonable choice to offer that option when we’re in a crisis mode.”

Asymptomatic workers will be assigned to mainly COVID-19 patients, and will be required to wear N-95 masks.

“Two people are masked, especially with N-95… that’s a very safe recipe for a lack of transmission,” said Dr. Kontaxis.

Despite this, the California Nurses Association believes this new guideline will put patients at risk.

“Allowing nurses and other healthcare workers to come to the workplace with or without symptoms but testing positive puts our patients and our coworkers at high risk of being infected,” said Zenei Triunfo-Cortez, a registered nurse and President of California Nurses Association.

Health officials are also calling on the community to help alleviate the pressure by following health and safety protocols and getting vaccinated.

“Our message to the general public is please, continue your safety measures, but also get vaccinated, that will really help us,” said Dr. Tsang.

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