Lowcountry healthcare employees operate on shortened COVID-19 quarantine
CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Multiple hospitals in the Lowcountry are aligning themselves with the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s recent guidelines and have shortened isolation and quarantine policies for healthcare workers who test positive for COVID-19.
This comes as Omicron surges, and hospitals are tasked with caring for patients, as well also staffing their exam rooms and operating rooms.
“There’s certainly challenges right now having people out for COVID and at the same having high volumes of patients,” Gayle Resetar, the Chief Operating Officer at Tidelands Health, said. “It hasn’t been an easy two years, and this fourth surge isn’t easy either.”
In order to keep hospitals running, the CDC altered their guidelines to allow healthcare workers to return to work within five days if they’re asymptomatic or even if they’re showing symptoms as long as they’re improving.
The guidelines also permit healthcare workers to return to work immediately if the hospital is in a staffing crisis.
“The CDC allows healthcare facilities to make that determination individually, based on staffing,” Dr. Robert Oliverio, the Vice President and Chief Medical Officer of Roper St. Francis, said.
All of the hospitals in the Lowcountry—MUSC, Roper, Trident and Tidelands—have shortened their quarantine time.
The seven-day quarantine at Tidelands is the most conservative of the four.
“I think that’s going to be helpful for us,” Resetar said. “We were on the ten-day mark before, but it is critical to be able to return people to work as quickly as possible.”
Resetar says they have not had to ask actively sick employees to come into work and believe the seven-day quarantine is a way to balance staffing, while also not spreading the virus.
“We’re as cautious as everybody about really controlling spread,” she said. “It’s going to be very important to us that we don’t spread it in our own workforce.”
MUSC, Trident and Roper have elected to follow the CDC’s five-day quarantine rule.
“We continue to keep studying and follow our action plan and continue to follow CDC guidelines,” Jenn Freund, the Associate Chief Nursing Officer at Trident, said.
When it comes to this five-day policy, Dr. Danielle Scheurer, the Chief Quality Officer of MUSC Health, says the devil’s in the details.
“Some symptoms linger and don’t necessarily indicate infectivity, such as loss of taste and smell,” she said. “Whereas other symptoms linger are more worrisome and we would not want someone to return to work with a cough, for example.”
Scheurer says staffing at MUSC is tight but manageable. They hope to avoid making employees with COVID ever come to work—something that is allowed according to CDC guidelines.
“I mean it’s a hospital and a healthcare system,” she said. “We have to be able to care of patients. If push comes to shove and we have an overwhelming amount of people out with COVID, then the crisis standards do say essentially people will have to keep working. We’ve never needed to resort to that. We are certainly going to do everything in their power to never resort to that.”
Oliverio says even with the shorter quarantine, that doesn’t mean healthcare employees are contagious.
“There has to be with improvement in symptoms and no fever,” he said. “It’s not like you can just count five days off after you get symptoms and say, ‘OK, I’m ready to go back.’”
He tells us they, too, have been able to avoid crisis mode at Roper.
“If someone is working in the hospital, they don’t have COVID,” he said. “I think we’d all rather have folks getting better at home, as opposed to in the workspace. That being said, I can’t tell you what’s going to happen in the future. My hope is, things are going to get better quickly, but we have not gotten there.”
Freund says other safety precautions also make a difference.
“Masks, hand hygiene, PPE—evidence shows that that protects each other,” she said.
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