In strained hospitals, exposed workers asked to come back during quarantine

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MADISON (WKOW) — In hospitals experiencing critical staff shortages, some workers are returning to duty when they would otherwise be in quarantine following exposure to a known COVID-19 case, state health officials said Tuesday.

Wisconsin Department of Health Services Secretary-Designee Andrea Palm said hospitals around the state were experiencing staff shortages due to the high volume of COVID-19 hospitalizations since October.

“Our hospitals are still strained,” Palm said. “They continue to report current and imminent critical staffing shortages and we continue to admit patients to the alternate care facility.”

The DHS’ chief medical officer, Ryan Westergaard, said some hospitals were having to implement some version of crisis standards, where healthcare providers have to alter operations because of the strain on staffing.

Westergaard said the most prominent example of this was hospitals having workers return to the hospital during a period they would normally be asked to stay away in quarantine after high-risk contact with someone confirmed to have had COVID-19.

“That’s something that, under normal circumstances, we wouldn’t do,” Westergaard said. “In the setting of a staffing crisis, where hospital leadership feels it’s more dangerous for patients to keep people home than to have healthcare workers come back to the workplace.”

While the 7-day average for new cases has trended downward for the last two weeks, Palm warned it was too soon to say for certain the state has flattened the curve, especially less than a week removed from Thanksgiving and any large indoor family gatherings that may have spread the virus.

“We need to hold a little bit,” Palm said. “See how the numbers reveal themselves to us over the coming couple of weeks.”

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