The Rhode Island Department of Health recently informed health care facilities that workers who test positive for COVID-19 don’t have to isolate if their employer has met so-called “crisis” standards.
In all other cases, workers, regardless of vaccination status, are being told to isolate for five days and wear a mask for an additional five days.
Both updates follow new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which cut isolation time recommendations because of concerns not doing so would lead to worker shortages.
“Maintaining appropriate staffing in healthcare facilities is essential to providing a safe work environment for HCP and for safe patient care,” the agency wrote on its website late last month.
Rhode Island health officials declined to answer questions for this story beyond confirming the department made updates based on the CDC adjustments.
Neither the department nor the CDC has defined what constitutes a “crisis,” enabling facilities to use COVID-19 positive workers.
In such situations, there are “no restrictions” on using personnel who have tested positive, according to the Rhode Island Department of Health. However, workers who are showing no symptoms or only mild symptoms should be put on the schedule ahead of those showing stronger symptoms, health care facilities were told.
Workers who were exposed to COVID-19, meanwhile, are able to work under the updated rules as long as there is a “contingency” or “crisis.” If not, then those who are boosted can work but those who have not gotten a booster are being told to isolate for five days.
The guidance drew criticism from some, including state Sen. Jessica de la Cruz.
“RIDOH will allow healthcare staff who test positive w/COVID to work but not unvaxxed healthcare staff who test negative?! It’s time for the state to admit its mistake. We need all hands on deck to address the healthcare crisis. Rehire these qualified & experienced professionals,” she wrote on Twitter.
Under Rhode Island’s COVID-19 vaccine mandates, hundreds of health care workers were fired last year.
Joseph Wendelken, a spokesman for the state, told the Providence Journal that unvaccinated health care workers are at greater individual risk from COVID-19, and noted that some early studies indicate that even with the Omicron virus variant, people with COVID-19 have lower viral loads when vaccinated.
Wendelken also said state officials are working on updated guidance for educators, and that that guidance should be made available in the near future.