Nurses Union Slams 'Return to Work' COVID Guidelines in California

California health care workers are hitting out at new "Return to Work" COVID-19 guidelines in the state, with some saying the guidance is "dangerous" and will ultimately drive up transmission in hospitals.

Under the latest guidance issued by the California Department of Public Health on Saturday, health care workers who test positive for COVID-19 or were exposed to a COVID-19-positive contact, but are asymptomatic, are allowed to return to work without isolating or testing negative for the virus.

The measures come as a growing number of staff are having to isolate amid a rise in cases of COVID-19 in the state, driven by the highly transmissible Omicron variant of the novel coronavirus.

The California Department of Public Health has said that the new guidance, which is to remain in effect until February 1, will address staffing shortages amid the Omicron surge.

Nurses however have raised concerns that the decision will lead to more staff contracting COVID-19, which will result in lack of care for patients.

"It is morally distressing and physically exhausting that we continue to do this 2 years into the pandemic," one nurse said, reported KRON4.

The California Nurses Association, an affiliate of National Nurses United, and a trade union labor union with some 100,000 members, said the guidance will "put our nurses and healthcare workers at risk."

"Therefore further increasing the risk of further covid infection and illnesses for our patients," the union said.

Union president and registered nurse Zenei Triunfo-Cortez emphasized that everyone has different experiences with COVID-19.

"For some people, maybe they just got the cold. That's all well and good but we never know what else will develop after that cold," said Triunfo-Cortez. "We will do the best we can given what we have and given the situation that we are in."

Triunfo-Cortez said the union is "hoping and urging" that the guidance will be rescinded, "because what we [want] is for our patients to get well and our nurses to stay healthy and safe."

Ultrasound technician Georgette Bradford told ABC10 she thinks the new state guidance is "counter-productive."

"It's dangerous, and it's actually backwards to everything we're doing right now," she said.

"We are in this industry to care for others; that's the root word right there," Bradford added. "Yet we are asked to put others at potential harm because of short staffing, which really is about dollars and cents."

Newsweek has contacted the California Department of Public Health for additional comment.

The state guidance came shortly after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) decided to reduce the self-isolation period for those who test positive for COVID-19 and are asymptomatic.

The CDC on December 27 said that those individuals should now isolate for five days instead of 10, citing evidence that people are most infectious two days prior to developing symptoms and three days afterward.

Nurse at Sharp Grossmont Hospital in California
Nurse Amber Kirk wears personal protective equipment (PPE) as she performs range of motion exercises on a COVID-19 patient in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) at Sharp Grossmont Hospital amidst the coronavirus pandemic on May 5, 2020 in La Mesa, California. California health care workers are hitting out at new “Return to Work” COVID-19 guidelines in the state. Mario Tama/Getty Images