We learned Tuesday that the California Department of Public Health rescinded its dangerous January guidance permitting the state’s healthcare facilities to force COVID-positive staff back to work without isolation periods or testing.
The state’s move comes after nurses with SEIU 721 spoke out against the health guidance in early January. Under the guidelines, state health facilities facing staffing shortages were allowed to require doctors, nurses, and other workers to return to work immediately after testing positive for COVID-19 if they were asymptomatic — so long as the infected staff members wore N95 face masks.
The state’s standard endangered healthcare workers and patients who would have been exposed to staff known to be infected with COVID-19 — at a time when the County and state faces an unprecedented wave of cases because of the highly transmissible Omicron variant.
In a letter to Gov. Gavin Newsom sent on January 13, SEIU 721 President David Green objected to the new standards and called on the governor to protect healthcare workers.
“This guidance endangers healthcare workers across the state, including the thousands of nurses, clinic workers, and other frontline healthcare professionals in Southern California who are SEIU 721 members,” said Green in his letter to Newsom. “Since the emergence of COVID-19 in our communities, we’ve known that asymptomatic carriers can spread the virus.”
Green and SEIU 721 members also called for greater investment in recruitment and retention of healthcare staff to head off future staffing shortages. For too long, the hospitals and clinics SEIU 721 members work in have been short-handed, with administrators trying to find savings by contracting out vital services to private corporations and relying on tools like nurse registries and traveling nurses.
“The COVID-19 pandemic, including the Omicron wave, has shown that these practices are no substitute for having an adequate number of fairly compensated professional healthcare staff who are treated with dignity and respect and who are not expected to overwork themselves or operate in unsafe conditions when patient intake is high,” wrote Green in his letter to Newsom. “Gov. Newsom, you have referred to healthcare workers as ‘heroes’ in the past. I am asking you to please show these workers that you believe they are heroes by doing everything in your power to protect and invest in them.”