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Authorities in Belgium and the US state of North Dakota are allowing healthcare workers with covid-19 back to work, claiming that staff shortages necessitated the move. The state health officer of North Dakota signed an order specifically exempting healthcare workers from a statewide requirement that people who have tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 isolate at home for 10 days. The governor of North Dakota, Doug Burgum, said at a press conference that he wasn’t worried about the spread of infection since the coronavirus positive staff would be caring only for patients with covid-19.
Belgium’s public health advisory agency has set up guidelines for asymptomatic coronavirus positive doctors and nurses to work. These say that such staff can be asked to work in “very exceptional cases” and only with patients in covid-19 units. Infected workers are to use separate entrances, changing rooms, and break areas.
Philippe Devos, head of Belgium’s association of medical unions, said in an interview with Deutsche Welle that 10% of doctors and nurses at his hospital, CHC Montlegia, were at home sick because of covid-19, while in other hospitals in the country the absence rate was 25%. Alison Pittard, head of the UK Faculty of Intensive Care Medicine, said on a recent BMJ podcast that she was left “speechless” by the move. ‘They’re going to come into contact with members of the public and their own coworkers,” she said. Staff shortage or not, infected healthcare workers should be treated like anyone else, she added.’
Outline the main issues raised.
(Reference: Adapted from https://www.bmj.com/content/371/bmj.m4455)
Example Candidate Response
Two places especially hard hit by Coronavirus are allowing healthcare workers that test positive to return to work. Dakota believes that these healthcare professionals will be able to only work with COVID patients, and Belgium has a similar structure in place..
This is an ethically challenging situation as each of these workers could save a life, or lives, through their presence. The absence rate of workers at some hospitals is 25%.
However, as they are infected, it is nigh-on impossible to prevent them ever mixing with other staff members, or even weakened patients. Any level of mixing, no matter how carefully controlled, could cause an outbreak.
Therefore, a tough decision must be made as to whether their presence is for the greater good or if it is detrimental overall. Whilst it may be simple for countries who don’t face this problem to judge those that are attempting this solution, if safeguards could be well enough instigated then this may be a passable solution for hospitals in severe difficulty.
One must put patient health first, and therefore consider this solution only if robust precautions are in place, and all other eventualities discounted.