Health care workers in Oklahoma who have tested positive for the novel coronavirus but are asymptomatic — meaning they are not showing any symptoms — can continue working at hospitals and long-term care facilities, but only as a “last resort,” according to health officials in the state.
“Because some Oklahoma hospitals and nursing homes are experiencing staffing shortages, the Oklahoma State Department of Health is allowing asymptomatic staff who previously tested positive for COVID-19 to continue working,” Travis Kirkpatrick, deputy commissioner of the Oklahoma Department of Health, in a statement, according to The Oklahoman.
“This is something already happening in many other states and we ask that it only be used as a last resort in emergencies and extreme staffing shortages,” he added.
States such as North Dakota and Michigan have implemented similar rules over fears of staffing shortages.
Kirkpatrick noted, however, that asymptomatic workers would not be allowed to treat non-COVID-19 patients and should be kept separate from other health care workers who are not infected. He said it would be up to hospitals and long term care facilities “to come up with their own protocols” around this, however, the newspaper reported.
“No nurse should ever be forced to work when they are asymptomatic,” he added, noting only health care workers who have volunteered to work while experiencing no symptoms should do so.
Some health care workers in the state have pushed back on the new guidance, however. The Oklahoma Nurses Association, for instance, called it “reckless.”
“Why would we imperil our nurses, patients and other health care staff by resorting to the use of asymptomatic COVID-19 positive nurses when we haven’t exhausted other strategies?” the association said in a statement, according to The Oklahoman.
In Oklahoma, there has been an explosive increase in COVID-19 cases recently. State officials reported 3,732 new cases on Wednesday alone. To date, the Sooner State has recorded more than 184,000 cases of the deadly virus, according to official estimates.
As of Tuesday, about 1,566 in the state were hospitalized with COVID-19, a record high, according to data from the COVID Tracking Project.