With health care workers quarantined, hospitals face shortages

Health care facilities debate what standards they should use before ordering workers quarantined — and what safety protocols need to become commonplace in clinics and emergency rooms.

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March 10, 2020 - 10:42 AM

Dr. Brian Lee, middle, emergency department medical director at St. Joseph Medical Center in Orange, Calif., on Feb. 12. U.S. hospitals are stocking up on gowns and goggles and holding refresher courses in infection control amid a growing outbreak of a novel strain of coronavirus. Photo by (Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

As the U.S. battles to limit the spread of the highly contagious new coronavirus, the number of health care workers ordered to self-quarantine because of potential exposure to an infected patient is rising at an exponential pace. In Vacaville, Calif., alone, one case — the first documented instance of community transmission in the U.S. — left more than 200 hospital workers under quarantine and unable to work for weeks.

Across California, dozens more health care workers have been ordered home because of possible contagion in response to a rapidly growing number of confirmed cases. In Kirkland, Wash., more than a quarter of the city’s Fire Department was quarantined after exposure to a handful of infected patients at the Life Care Center nursing home.

With the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases mushrooming by the day, a quarantine response of this magnitude would quickly leave the health care system short-staffed and overwhelmed. The situation has prompted debate in the health care community about just what standards medical facilities should use before ordering workers quarantined — and what safety protocols need to become commonplace in clinics and emergency rooms.

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