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A health system operating in Arizona announced a “critical staff crisis” and updated its guidance to allow COVID-postive health employees to continue working. 

COVID positive staff who are improving, mildly symptomatic or asymptomatic do not require isolation but are required to wear N95 masks for up to 10 days of positive symptoms or testing. These measures are supported by the CDC,” Dignity Health – a California-based health system that also operates in Arizona – wrote an email to St. Joseph Hospital staff in Phoenix, ABC15 reported

The hospital system explained in a statement that it authorized the “third tier” of the CDC guidelines, which allow asymptomatic or recovering health workers with mild symptoms to continue working without a quarantine period. 

Photo of patient in a hospital. (iStock)

“Due to the spread and impact of the COVID-19 omicron variant in Maricopa County, and in anticipation of a continued increase, Dignity Health facilities in Maricopa County have enacted the third tier of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines for COVID-19 positive health care workers. These guidelines allow COVID-19 positive health care personnel who are asymptomatic or improving with mild symptoms to work without a quarantine period,” the statement said, according to ABC15. 

Arizona Republican Gov. Doug Ducey signed an executive order last year banning local or state governments from implementing vaccine mandates but exempted health care institutions. 

FILE – In this April 15, 2021, file photo, Arizona Republican Gov. Doug Ducey speaks during a bill signing in Phoenix. The Arizona Supreme Court is set to release its decision, Thursday, Aug. 19, 2021, in a constitutional challenge to a new tax on high earners that was designed to increase school funding and approved by the state’s voters in November. Ducey opposed the new tax and said he hopes the state’s high court finds it unconstitutional. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)

Hospitals issued their own vaccine mandates, including the Mayo Clinic, which fired 700 employees last week for not complying, including employees at its Phoenix location. Dignity Health announced a vaccine mandate in August, and extended its vaccine deadline until February for at least one of its hospital centers

The updated guidance from Dignity sparked backlash from employees, who say it goes against what they were taught and learned since 2020. 

“These patients are the poorest, the sickest, and the most at risk. To have a healthcare worker who’s going to be dealing directly with these people, coming back coughing, which is exactly what’s been happening…really leaves you no faith in the company that you work for,” an anonymous health care worker for St. Joseph’s told ABC15. 

The omicron variant of the virus has spiked across the country. Many hospitals have reported they are struggling with staffing amid an uptick in patients, which follows thousands of healthcare workers across the country being terminated last year for not complying with state and hospital vaccine mandates. 

“I think they’re going to really have a staffing crisis coming soon because either a lot of their employees will die, from what they’ve been telling us. Or, we’re just going to be fed up,” the anonymous St. Joseph’s health care worker said.

Testing facilities in Arizona are also coping with a surge in patients attempting to get tested amid the spike. Some sites temporarily ran out of rapid test kits, according to ABC15. 

Nurse is comforting a covid patient at the ICU

“It’s actually substantially worse than I ever could have imagined. Yesterday alone, our patients across Arizona scheduled over 42,000 COVID-19 tests. Our previous record for scheduling was 32,000,” said Embry Health CEO Raymond Embry on Saturday.

Dignity Health’s updated guidance follows Rhode Island and California issuing similar guidance.

In Rhode Island, the state’s department of health updated its guidance to allow COVID-positive health care workers to continue working if they have mild symptoms or are asymptomatic, and if their hospital is facing a staffing crisis. In California, the state’s Department of Public Health said in updated guidance Saturday that asymptomatic COVID-positive healthcare workers can immediately return to work without a quarantine period. 

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