Healthcare workers in all parts of the state are seeing the pandemic numbers of sick and dead increase steeply, with records recorded each day as fall moves toward winter. Many have contracted the virus despite safety measures and had to self-quarantine at home if the cases were not severe or asymptomatic.
The state guidance for those exposed is 14 days of quarantine. This is a highly recommended but voluntary length of time, so nearly half of the asymptomatic workers are returning to work sooner. This is at the request of their employers faced with staffing shortages, particularly among skilled nursing and those working at assisted living centers.
A CDC study confirms this, pointing out that 3,580 workers in quarantine after exposure to COVID-19 between March and July, and 57% were asked to return to work early. Just over 48% of those asked returned to work. Those numbers remain consistent as we head into the end of the year.
The CDC also includes a footnote in its policies, stating that it may not be possible to honor asymptomatic quarantines if there are shortages. In cases such as these, workers would employ masking, symptom screening and possible testing.
Impacting health workers
The requests upon health workers drive up the numbers, thus creating the largest numbers to date as we head into winter. Many are also troubled that they could potentially harm instead of help those they care for. For them, it’s a moral issue for many, as well as a medical one.
Workers cannot be forced to return
The state’s Health Department is still urging workers to follow the two-week quarantine protocol. It is also considering sending out a letter to employers reminding them that they cannot force workers to return – and they cannot fire, punish or penalize the staff who refuse to return early. Moreover, those who fall ill are within their rights to file for workers’ compensation or even personal injury claims against their employer.