TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — Two Tucson hospitals are changing their COVID-19 policies to try to keep up with staffing shortages magnified by the Omicron surge.
Starting Monday, employees at Banner University Medical Center who test positive for COVID but who are “asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic” will be able to return to work, if they feel well enough to do so and wear an N95 or KN95 mask for at least 10 days after testing positive.
The announcement came as part of the following statement from a Banner spokesperson:
The Omicron variant is spreading rapidly in the communities we serve. As residents of these communities, our team members are being exposed and infected with the virus at much higher rates. The vast majority of our team members are fully vaccinated and protected against severe illness. Many of them will be asymptomatic or only have mild symptoms if they experience a breakthrough infection. For this reason, we are changing our COVID return-to-work policy to align with the most recent CDC recommendations.
Effective January 17, we will allow asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic COVID-positive team members to safely return to work if they feel they are well enough to do so. Team members who return under these guidelines will be required to wear N95/KN95 masks for 10 days after a positive test. These changes continue to be in alignment with the CDC and similar protocols have been adopted by many other health care systems.
An email sent to Banner employees Friday and obtained by KGUN says this policy also applies to those with “significantly improving moderate symptoms” missing less than 5 calendar days of work. Those with symptoms missing five or more days still must be cleared before they can return.
Banner Chief Medical Officer Dr. Marjorie Bessel said in a press conference earlier this week that the change follows new CDC Return to Work guidance for health care workers, which was issued late last month.
“Our return to work process is robust, and it is intended to keep our employees as well as our patients safe,” Bessel said. “This is an ever-evolving situation with the Omicron variant, and we will continue to evaluate our staffing needs as well as the changing environment.”
Tucson Medical Center’s new policy also follows the CDC’s updated guidance and is already in effect. A spokesperson sent KGUN the following statement.
Last week, TMC adopted the RTW contingency guidance; which states that an employee with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 infection may return to work if they are fever free for 24 hours, without the use of fever reducing medicine, they have symptom improvement and a minimum of 5 days have passed since symptoms first appeared. Once back at work, employees will need to be diligent about wearing their face mask, perform frequent hand hygiene, and socially distance as available for an additional 5 days. We will not require a negative test to return to work. There are no work restrictions for employees that have been exposed but have no symptoms.
When asked if Carondolet Health hospitals would follow the pattern and change their return to work policy for COVID positive employees, a statement in response said, “We will continue to follow CDC guidelines and have clear policies in place for the safety of our employees and patients.”
Just this week, front line workers protested the staffing conditions at Carondolet’s St. Joseph’s and St. Mary’s hospitals.