Jan 12, 2022
By: David Heller
Hospital staffing is a challenge even at the best of times, but in the current Omicron wave, it's forcing policymakers to question two key tenets of the battle against COVID. The new Omicron variant is a more infectious but significantly less deadly form of COVID that is now making its way around the world. After hospitals dismissed frontline medical staff who did not want to participate in the vaccination campaign, and with more hospital staff testing positive, many jurisdictions have decided to allow staff that tested positive for COVID to remain on the job.
Across the country, numerous hospitals dismissed medical staff either due to the Biden administration’s vaccine mandate, local mandates or as a matter of hospital policy. Months ago, concerns were raised about what such mandates would do to the hospital’s ability to adequately serve the public. In Canada, two provinces scrapped the planned mandate at the last minute precisely because of this concern. This was not the case in many other locations such as New York, Rhode Island, California, and Australia where vaccine mandates were implemented, and staff dismissed.
Now with the start of winter, when hospitals are stretched to capacity, many of those same jurisdictions that fired their unvaccinated staff are facing shortages. Case in point is California, which months earlier mandated that all hospital staff in the state be vaccinated. Last week it announced a significant change in policy “[Health Care Personnel] HCPs who have tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 and are asymptomatic may return to work immediately without isolation and without testing.” So instead of having unvaccinated and uninfected personnel working in hospitals, the state has decided that it would allow infected personal to come to work so long as they were vaccinated, despite the fact that an infected vaccinated person can spread the virus to the same extent as an unvaccinated person.
The new policy is not limited to California, in Queensland Australia, over 8 percent of Central Queensland Hospital and Health Service (CQHHS) workers did not comply with the COVID vaccination mandate, which led to cuts in surgical, medical, and mental health beds. Even though it’s currently summer, with the new Omicron wave, and the health authorities' refusal to promote early treatment, Queensland has announced that it too would now allow COVID-positive personnel to continue working in hospitals – but not the unvaccinated who have no trace of the virus.
Rhode Island has a similar experience, mandates that led to staff dismissals, and is now faced with staff shortages. In R.I. the policy also extends to nursing homes, where even “mildly symptomatic” workers can be called up to work. While this is not as bad as Connecticut which actually began transferring sick COVID patients back into nursing homes – as if this policy failure from the start of the pandemic was forgotten. Rep. David Place of R.I.’s legislature criticized his state’s policy of bringing in COVID-positive staff in place of the unvaccinated, asking “Why not admit we made a mistake?”
Some jurisdictions didn’t fire its unvaccinated from the hospitals, Nebraska actually put out a recruitment campaign to find new staff among the pool of newly available unvaccinated nurses. In Ontario, Canada the government is currently considering a new policy “that would make it mandatory for public sector employers, including hospitals, to re-hire employees that have been terminated for failing to comply with COVID-19 vaccination policies.” As reported in the Ottawa Citizen.
The policy of mandating COVID vaccinations has been controversial since the beginning, in addition to the ethical problems, there is growing recognition that the policy is ineffective at slowing the spread of COVID. The Lancet published an article explaining how the vaccinated infect others at about the same rate as the unvaccinated, and how the viral load is similar in both vaccinated and unvaccinated, and that infection rates were similar among both groups. The Brownstone Institute has also compiled a collection of nine studies that demonstrate the ineffectiveness of segregating the unvaccinated in order to control the spread of COVID. The Wall Street Journal published an article this week co-authored by Nobel prize winner Dr. Montagnier, explaining that since Omicron is more transmissible, the policy of mandating vaccination has even less merit today than it did in the past.
The change in hospital policy of allowing COVID-positive employees to work highlights another previously held flawed assumption – that asymptomatic people spread the virus in a significant way. Two years ago, at the start of the COVID response, Anthony Fauci, former head of the NIH stated; “Even if there is some asymptomatic transmission, in all the history of respiratory-borne viruses of any type, asymptomatic transmission has never been the driver of outbreaks. The driver of outbreaks is always a symptomatic person.” Despite various models that purport to show the opposite, A study published in JAMA did a meta-analysis of 54 studies and concluded that asymptomatic transmission even within the household was less than 1%.
While the new hospital policy is a refreshing acknowledgment of the science that shows asymptomatic people pose a very small risk to others, some hospitals have gone one step too far, and have allowed mildly symptomatic staff to continue to work – this policy is potentially harmful to others since the virus is primarily transmitted during the first few days of symptomatic infection.
Now that hospitals are removing the restrictions on asymptomatic people, and some withdrawing the vaccine mandates altogether, perhaps this new outlook for a more science-based approach to combating COVID will expand to other workplaces as well.
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