Summa Health staff who test positive for COVID-19 might still be able to report to work under certain situations, according to a memo to staff released Thursday.
Under the new guidelines, effective immediately, those who have the novel coronavirus but are asymptomatic or have mild symptoms may still be able to work, as long as they do not have a fever, defined as a temperature of 100.4 F or higher. Mild illness includes cough, sore throat, fatigue, headache and muscle pain.
"This change was made as studies show the majority of COVID-19 transmission occurs early in the illness, generally one to two days prior to the onset of symptoms and two to three days after," Thursday's memo states. The revisions were made based on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's updated COVID-19 guidelines.
Michael Bernstein, system director, corporate communications and public relations for Summa Health, said the health care system continues to "see an increase in the number of employees, both clinical and non-clinical, who are impacted by COVID."
"The specific number of employees able to return to work under the new CDC guidelines changes daily as the number of impacted employees continues to evolve," Bernstein said.
Bernstein said the health of Summa's employees, visitors and patients was "our top priority," and that the system was "among the first health care organizations in Ohio to update our vaccination policy to include the COVID-19 vaccine as a condition of employment."
"The updated policy ... allows us to enhance the care of our patients by ensuring we are well-staffed at a time when having available staff is critical," he said.
Unvaccinated and partially vaccinated employees who test positive
Under the new COVID-19 protocols, employees testing positive who are unvaccinated (due to exemptions/deferments) or who have received one of the two shots and have no or mild symptoms should isolate for five days.
After five days, they can return to work if they have been fever-free for at least 24 hours without using fever-reducing medications and their symptoms do not worsen.
Those with more serious symptoms such as extreme fatigue, chest pain or shortness of breath should isolate for 10 days. However, they can return to work after five days if they have had no fever for at least 24 hours without medication and if their symptoms have improved.
Fully vaccinated employees who test positive
Fully vaccinated employees who have tested positive for COVID-19 but who are asymptomatic or have only minor symptoms may continue to work. "Fully vaccinated" does not include the booster shot.
Employees with mild symptoms but who have a fever should isolate for either five days or until they are fever-free for at least 24 hours without medication and if their symptoms improve.
Moderately symptomatic employees should isolate for at least five days; these workers can return after five days if they have had no fever for 24 hours without medicines and if their symptoms have improved. Moderate symptoms include trouble breathing, chest pain, wheezing and extreme fatigue.
COVID-19 testing requirements
If an employee has been exposed to COVID-19 but has no symptoms, they can continue to work and do not need to test.
Those with mild symptoms also can continue to work as long as they don't have a fever, but they will be tested for COVID-19.
Those with moderate symptoms will have to quarantine and be tested for the novel coronavirus. If they test negative, they can return to work once they have been fever-free without medications for at least 24 hours and their symptoms have improved.
Staff who test positive must notify Summa's employee health department, according to the memo. Upon returning to work, all employees will be required to follow proper COVID protocols for patient and co-worker interaction.
Bernstein said that health care organizations across the United States are seeing staff shortages, at a time when they are critically needed.
"This has caused a significant strain on our system, with the need for capacity reaching unprecedented levels," he said. "There are a variety of factors that go into this. In addition to the growing number of employees impacted by COVID, there is a nationwide shortage of clinical staff and other support positions. Burnout has caused many to leave the health care field. And there simply aren’t enough people entering the industry to overcome the gaps at any time soon. This is all happening at a time when we are seeing more and more people, often critically ill, coming through our doors."
There were several things the community can do to help minimize risk, Bernstein said.
"Get vaccinated," he said. "If vaccinated, get a booster. Wear a mask. Socially distance. Avoid large crowds and gatherings. If symptomatic, get tested."
Reporter April Helms can be reached at email@example.com.
This article originally appeared on Akron Beacon Journal: Employees at Summa with no or mild symptoms could continue to work