As more and more cases of novel coronavirus sweep through the nation, work to trace possible contacts of positive patients is likely to leave healthcare professionals who helped care for the patients facing quarantine periods of their own. This means hospitals and medical facilities may be left scrambling to address staffing shortages as the number of patients needing care grows.
“Hospitals are experiencing the most significant shortages because of both an uptick in patients and also staff being exposed to the virus and needing to be quarantined,” David Savitsky, CEO of ATC Healthcare Services, told Fox News. “Also, as an aside to the patients who need care, there are a significant number of people showing up at the hospitals that are not sick, but think they are and want to be tested or treated.”
At least five healthcare workers have tested positive for the virus so far, according to Business Insider, with hundreds of others in quarantine.
“It’s just not sustainable to think that every time a healthcare worker is exposed they have to be quarantined for 14 days,” Dr. Jennifer Nuzzo, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, told Kaiser Health News. “We’d run out of healthcare workers.”
Savitsky said that for now, his company is seeing that the demand for nurses is highest, followed by respiratory therapists and X-ray and CAT scan technicians, because of their exposure to COVID-19 patients.
“Physician practices are also being affected significantly because if one patient shows up with the virus, they can wipe out almost the entire staff who works there,” he said.
Savitsky, who himself is self-isolating after being exposed to COVID-19 in a personal setting, said one of his employees is also voluntarily quarantining and his staff is following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.
“We have provided guidance to all our staff about the precautions they should be taking following the CDC guidelines,” he said. “Our vice president of nursing has provided extensive communication to our staff reminding them about precautions to take.”
As of March 7, the CDC said healthcare workers who have had exposure to COVID-19 but are asymptomatic can continue working.
“Facilities could consider allowing asymptomatic healthcare personnel (HCP) who have had an exposure to a COVID-19 patient to continue to work after options to improve staffing have been exhausted and in consultation with their occupational health program,” the CDC said. “These HCP should still report temperature and absence of symptoms each day prior to start work. Facilities could have exposed HCP wear a facemask while at work for the 14 days after the exposure event if there is a sufficient supply of facemasks.”
The agency said any healthcare professional who develops “even mild symptoms” that are consistent with COVID-19 “must cease patient care activities, don a facemask and notify their supervisor or occupational health services prior to leaving work.”