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Think Health Care Workers Are Tested Often For COVID-19? Think Again – NPR

A nurse places on private protecting gear as she prepares to deal with a COVID-19 affected person final month at a rural Missouri hospital.

Jeff Roberson/AP


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Jeff Roberson/AP

A nurse places on private protecting gear as she prepares to deal with a COVID-19 affected person final month at a rural Missouri hospital.

Jeff Roberson/AP

In a current roundtable with Joe Biden, nurse Mary Turner told the president-elect one thing he discovered shocking:

“Are you aware that I’ve not been examined but?” mentioned Turner, who’s president of the Minnesota Nurses Association. “And I’ve been on the entrance traces of the ICU since February.”

“You are kidding me!” Biden replied.

She wasn’t kidding.

Steerage from the Facilities for Illness Management and Prevention means that health care personnel be tested if they’re symptomatic or have a identified publicity to the coronavirus. However treating COVID-19 sufferers whereas carrying private protecting gear does not rely as publicity that warrants testing.

A current survey by National Nurses United, the nation’s largest union of registered nurses, found simply 42% of RNs in hospitals mentioned that they had ever been examined for the virus.

“It continues to amaze me that we’re not doing this,” mentioned Michael Mina, an epidemiologist on the Harvard T.H. Chan Faculty of Public Health. Whereas private protecting gear goes a good distance towards defending well being care employees, he mentioned, there have been outbreaks at hospitals.

At Brigham and Ladies’s Hospital in Boston, the place Mina runs the virology lab, an outbreak this fall contaminated 42 staff and 15 sufferers. The hospital mentioned components within the outbreak included sufferers not carrying masks, employees not carrying eye safety and staff failing to social distance whereas consuming.

However Mina believes that with extra testing, the virus wouldn’t have unfold so broadly.

“That’s an outbreak that should not have occurred. I consider fairly firmly that we’d not have seen an outbreak develop so, so shortly — and it would not have even been capable of get began if we had been doing frequent testing.”

Defining the chance

Mina mentioned to think about physicians at a hospital who’ve the virus however are asymptomatic. The medical doctors do not realize they’ve been uncovered and are actually working when they’re most infectious.

“They pose a really severe danger,” Mina mentioned. “In some unspecified time in the future within the day, you take off your masks to eat lunch. When you’re consuming lunch in a cafeteria, you would possibly expose 10 individuals with out figuring out it — particularly in a hospital setting the place you would have weak individuals throughout you.”

Ideally, he mentioned, persons are carrying masks and social distancing. However particularly with the arrival of winter, extra issues might be occurring indoors. “Persons are going to need to eat. Whether or not it is in a break room or a cafeteria, you actually do run a danger of getting different individuals uncovered.”

Nancy Foster, the American Hospital Association‘s vice chairman of high quality and affected person security coverage, mentioned hospitals are following the CDC’s scientific steerage.

“These methods had been implement within the early days of the pandemic, when there have been persistent considerations about shortages of testing kits and provides. Hospital employees and the CDC didn’t wish to divert out there testing provides away from sufferers and the overall inhabitants,” Foster mentioned in a press release to NPR, including that the AHA continues to induce the federal authorities to extend the provision of private protecting gear and testing provides.

Maggie McGillick, a spokesperson for the American College of Emergency Physicians, mentioned masks and PPE supply sturdy safety.

Nurses help a COVID-19 affected person final month at a Los Angeles hospital. The California Division of Public Health now strongly recommends hospitals take a look at all of their well being care personnel for the coronavirus every week.

Jae C. Hong/AP


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Jae C. Hong/AP

Nurses help a COVID-19 affected person final month at a Los Angeles hospital. The California Division of Public Health now strongly recommends hospitals take a look at all of their well being care personnel for the coronavirus every week.

Jae C. Hong/AP

“It’s practically unimaginable to transmit virus by way of an N95 masks, [powered air purifying respirators], or different gadgets,” she wrote in an electronic mail to NPR. “Those that would not have shut contact routinely put on masks. Handwashing and the usage of gloves is a part of their routine, so it is rather uncommon for an contaminated well being care skilled to transmit the illness to anybody at work.”

“The precautions and private protecting gear are working”

Many well being care employees are contracting the virus by way of neighborhood unfold, similar to different People. Final month, the Mayo Clinic mentioned that more than 900 employees in Minnesota and Wisconsin had gotten COVID-19 within the earlier two weeks, out of its 55,000 employees members there.

The Mayo Clinic’s medical director for occupational well being, Laura Breeher, mentioned the first supply of publicity for contaminated employees members is a identified publicity to somebody at dwelling.

How does the clinic know the virus is not spreading amongst employees?

“We monitor the supply for infections very fastidiously,” Breeher mentioned — and she or he mentioned the an infection charge of the clinic’s well being care employees engaged on campus in affected person care roles is much like that of on-campus employees not working with sufferers and people who are working from dwelling.

“In order that’s very, very reassuring to us that the precautions and private protecting gear are working,” Breeher mentioned.

Many hospitals now require sufferers to check damaging for the coronavirus within the few days earlier than an inpatient process. Physicians and nurses themselves, in the meantime, are unlikely to have been examined earlier than conducting the process.

Why the completely different requirements?

Breeher mentioned it is as a result of for a lot of procedures, sufferers cannot be masked.

She mentioned many sufferers “are needing procedures that enhance danger, comparable to being on CPAP machines at night time or issues like that. So we wish to ensure that we maintain our well being care campuses as protected as doable.”

Screening well being care employees at scale

Mina, the Harvard epidemiologist, mentioned there are strategies that hospitals might be utilizing to do common testing of huge numbers of well being care employees – both through the use of speedy antigen assessments or pooling PCR assessments.

“They may have everybody swab and put 50 swabs at a time into one tube and run that one tube and pool the assessments for very, very low cost. You would do complete hospital departments with one take a look at for 50 bucks a day,” he mentioned. If the pool assessments optimistic, the hospital can then return and take a look at the individuals in it individually to see who has the virus.

And speedy antigen tests may work even higher: “They solely detect individuals once they’re infectious.”

Mina mentioned that might make antigen assessments a super alternative for screening functions, as a result of some individuals proceed to check optimistic on PCR assessments for a lot of weeks after they’ve stopped being infectious. That would assist hospitals already stretched skinny on staffing.

“Many individuals are solely infectious, say, for 4 days. So possibly [with antigen testing] you come again to work after two days of being damaging. Possibly it is solely a five- or six-day isolation,” Mina mentioned.

In California, new steerage strongly recommends weekly testing

A nurse holds a candle throughout a vigil final month in Los Angeles for well being care employees who’ve died from COVID-19.

Patrick T. Fallon/AFP by way of Getty Photographs


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Patrick T. Fallon/AFP by way of Getty Photographs

A nurse holds a candle throughout a vigil final month in Los Angeles for well being care employees who’ve died from COVID-19.

Patrick T. Fallon/AFP by way of Getty Photographs

California’s state well being division introduced new guidance two weeks in the past that strongly recommends hospitals do weekly testing of well being care personnel — and advised pooled testing may be a solution to do it.

However Susan Butler-Wu, affiliate professor of scientific pathology on the College of Southern California and director of the scientific microbiology lab at a big hospital in Los Angeles, mentioned the state’s new suggestions are going to be exhausting for many hospital labs to implement.

At her personal hospital, she estimated that 10,000 individuals would have to be examined weekly. With out operational help from the state, she predicted the brand new protocols are going to trigger issues — together with additional delays in testing.

“Whenever you get some huge mandate that, ‘Hey, take a look at all of the well being care employees in your hospital,’ I haven’t got a bunch of pixies with magic swabs and magic reagents that can simply magically run this,” Butler-Wu mentioned.

The rules may additionally create staffing shortages, Butler-Wu mentioned, if staff who lately had COVID-19 asymptomatically out of the blue get optimistic PCR assessments.

They might not be infectious, “however now what will we do? We inform them to isolate. Now we lose an entire bunch of employees because of that,” she mentioned. “We’re asking individuals to remain dwelling and never work once they’re actually important and should not even be an infectious danger to anyone.”

The bigger downside is a systemic one, Butler-Wu mentioned.

“As a rustic, as a result of we do not have a nationwide plan or a nationwide technique, that is the scenario we discover ourselves: Soccer gamers can get assessments,” she mentioned. “Folks selecting to socialize and eager to really feel safer doing so, regardless that it is a pandemic, can get assessments.”

However a nationwide program to check the nation’s well being care employees commonly? There is not one.

Anne Jackson is a nurse on the College of Michigan well being system. She mentioned it is irritating to examine how the college’s soccer gamers and coaches are tested daily, whereas hospital employees are solely examined in the event that they’re symptomatic or have a CDC-outlined publicity. (The college additionally has a surveillance testing program that’s open to employees who wish to be examined.)

“Soccer makes them cash,” Jackson mentioned. “The well being system staff do as nicely, however to not the extent that the soccer gamers do, and the soccer gamers are extra invaluable to them than we’re.”

For Mina, the Harvard epidemiologist, the dearth of normal testing of well being care employees raises different questions.

“There is a clear downside once we’re saying that the best-danger individuals, the people who find themselves on the biggest danger to themselves and to their sufferers are the well being care employees,” Mina mentioned. “And in order that’s why we’ll give them vaccines earlier than anybody else. However then when we do not have a vaccine, and it is simply testing, we are saying, ‘Don’t fret about it, it isn’t a giant deal, you do not have to be examined.’ “

It is an strategy, he mentioned, that does not make sense.

Will Stone contributed to this report.

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