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Dignity Health allowing workers with ‘mild’ COVID symptoms, asymptomatic to work

A file photo of St. Joseph's Hospital in Arizona.
A file photo of St. Joseph's Hospital in Arizona.(Arizona's Family)
Updated: Jan. 10, 2022 at 12:25 PM MST
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PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) -- A major health care provider says it is adopting the latest CDC guidelines allowing those with COVID-19 who are experiencing mild and improving symptoms or are asymptomatic to keep working at its hospitals and facilities.

In a statement to Arizona’s Family, a Dignity Health spokesperson said that facilities in Maricopa County are following CDC guidelines for COVID-19 positive health care workers to continue working.

Arizona’s Family obtained a memo sent to Dignity Health staff members which stated that those who infected with coronavirus and feel well enough to work may request clearance to work from their manager. It adds that employees would need to wear an N-95 mask for 10 days after they tested positive.

“We are doing everything we can to ensure our employees can safely return to work while protecting our patients and staff from the transmissibility of COVID-19. The safety of our staff and patients is always our top priority; and we have tremendous gratitude for our dedicated care teams who have worked tirelessly to take care of our communities throughout the pandemic.”

A Dignity Health employee who didn’t want to be identified weighed in on the new guideline. “I don’t feel unsafe. For sure. It just sucks. It’s hard. We have a lot of patients so we need a lot of staff,” the employee said.

The news comes as the country experiences its latest wave of COVID-19 infection, as the omicron surges in the Valley and across the United States. More than 15,000 new COVID-19 cases were reported in the state of Arizona on Saturday and Sunday.

Will Humble, the director of the Arizona Public Health Association, says the new guideline puts an extra strain on hospitals.

“Hospitals are in a real bind. When you’re in a situation like that, and you’re responsible for treatment of everyone in that hospital, you have to look at: where does my leverage lie?” said Humble. “That’s not something they want to do. But when you’re at wits end, and you’ve exhausted all of your other options, you’re on your own.”

Kyera Walker is a Phoenix resident who has been visiting St. Joe’s Hospital to see her daughter, Legend, in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. Walker also weighed in on the new recommendation for COVID-positive employees.

“It’s dangerous. Like everybody is getting sick. Whether you have the symptoms or not, if you know you have COVID, you should not be working,” said Walker.

Other health care providers have also released statements regarding allowing COVID positive employees to still work. Valleywise Health told Arizona’s Family they “are not moving in this direction at this time.” Banner Health told Arizona’s Family they did not have any additional information to share.

HonorHealth also issued a statement to Arizona’s Family.

HonorHealth, like many other systems in the Valley, is experiencing staffing shortages due to the Omicron surge. As of Monday, Jan. 10, we remain in contingency staffing, which means we are asking clinical and patient-facing team members who test positive for COVID-19 to remain off work for five days, per the CDC guidelines. We are monitoring this situation daily.

The CDC’s latest guidance for personnel for those who have “mild to moderate illness” and are “not moderately to severely immunocompromised” says there needs to be at least seven days since symptoms first appeared, at least 24 hours since the last fever without the use of fever-reducing medications, and that symptoms should have improved.

Those CDC guidelines were last updated on Dec. 23 and other states, like the California Department of Public Health, have said they’re following suit to help keep the health care infrastructure running in the midst of staffing shortages.