French Health Care Workers Can Stay on Job If Positive for COVID, Showing Limited Symptoms

French officials announced health care workers are exempt from quarantine rules and can continue to treat patients even if the worker tested positive for COVID-19 and are showing minor or no symptoms.

French health care workers were given special quarantine exemptions after the french medical system is facing staffing shortages and continuous strain from the rapidly spreading Omicron variant.

The Health Ministry alerted hospitals, health authorities and care facilities on Sunday about the new guidelines for health care workers who continue to work while infected.

Health care personnel are only allowed to keep working when they're infected with COVID-19 if they are fully vaccinated, have mild symptoms, and aren't coughing and sneezing.

The ministry suggested when possible, infected workers should not be in direct contact or treating patients who are not vaccinated or who are considered at high risk of getting severely sick from COVID-19.

Additionally, infected workers should limit the amount of time they spend with their co-workers. They are not allowed to be around others where people don't wear face masks such as when taking breaks for eating and drinking.

Other European countries are reducing the quarantine time period so people can return to work faster. However, France seems to be the only country currently allowing health care workers to return to work while being infected.

French Nurses Work If Positive For COVID-19
Nurses in France are now allowed to work while positive for COVID-19 if they have limited symptoms. Above, a nurse is seen working in the intensive care unit of the Antoine Beclere AP-HP hospital in Clamart, outside Paris, on December 23, 2021. Geoffroy Van Der Hasselt/ AFP/Getty Images

Outside the health sector, for people not covered by the special exemption, France's quarantine rules require at least five days of self-isolation for fully vaccinated people who test positive.

With the especially contagious Omicron variant causing surges in infections in many countries, governments and industries have warned that self-isolation rules are leading to staff shortages across a range of sectors.

It is a calculated risk, with the possibility that COVID-positive health workers and carers could infect colleagues and patients weighed against what the government says is a need to keep essential services running.

There are increasing signs that the new variant causes less severe disease. But the huge numbers of new infections are still sending increasing numbers of people to hospitals, putting them under pressure, especially when medical workers are absent, too.

Hospital leaders said the new flexibility from self-isolation for health workers in France would help them plug staffing holes if and when they open up.

"If the system becomes very strained and 50% of our staff are positive, the less symptomatic will come to work because the patients will still need to be cared for," said Professor Marc Leone, head of anesthesiology at the North Hospital in the southern city of Marseille.

"But we're not in that situation yet," he said.

The ministry alert said France's deluge of virus infections poses "a major risk of disruption to the offer of care." It described the measure as "exceptional and temporary" and said it will be lifted when the system isn't so saturated with virus cases.

With Europe's highest number of confirmed daily virus cases, France is in an increasingly challenging position.

France's average daily case load has more than doubled in a week, and the country reported a record-smashing 271,686 daily virus cases on Tuesday as Omicron-driven infections race across the country, burdening hospital staff and threatening to disrupt health care, transport, schools and other services.

More than 20,000 people are hospitalized with the virus in France, a number that has been rising steadily for weeks but not as sharply as the infection rates.

COVID-19 patients fill more than 72 percent of France's ICU beds, and a once-renowned health care system is again showing signs of strain. Most virus patients in ICUs are not vaccinated, though 77 percent of the population has had at least two doses.

More than 123,000 people with the virus have died in France, among the world's higher recorded death tolls.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

covid rhode island nurses helath care
France officials said health care workers there can continue to work even if they contract COVID as long as they've had two doses of the vaccine and aren't sneezing or coughing. Above, U.S. Army Critical Care Nurse Captain Catherine Sison tends to a non-COVID patient on a ventilator at Beaumont Hospital in Dearborn, Michigan, on December 17, 2021. Jeff Kowalsky/AFP/Getty Images