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5 US health workers have coronavirus, hundreds in quarantine

  • At least five US health workers have tested positive for coronavirus, hundreds are in quarantine after exposure and dozens are awaiting test results.
  • Healthcare workers are particularly vulnerable to coronavirus because they are exposed to multiple viral particles.
  • Health leaders say the American health system is not ready for a widespread coronavirus outbreak.
  • Delays in testing, masking shortages and staffing problems could hinder the country’s response.
  • Visit the Business Insider homepage for more stories.

As coronavirus spreads to the United States, healthcare professionals are on the front lines.

At least five have contracted the virus and hundreds of others have been exposed and sent home for self-quarantine in the past month.

“It’s a big anxiety,” President of the National Union of Healthcare Workers Sal Rosselli told Business Insider. “There is a lack of confidence that the industry is prepared to adequately provide a safe environment for patients who have the virus and for patients who do not have the virus and to provide safe working conditions for people who take themselves. care for them. ”

As the numbers of coronavirus cases rise, asking healthcare professionals to stay home for two weeks after being exposed could leave hospitals short staffed.

“Hospitals and nursing homes often do not have adequate staff,” said Rosselli. “If many healthcare professionals contract the virus and have to stay at home, obviously at the same time, more patients are hospitalized. It is potentially an extremely serious situation.”

On Saturday, the CDC updated its recommendations to encourage healthcare professionals who have been exposed to coronavirus but who have no symptoms to continue working. They should check their temperature every day and wear face masks, the CDC said.

Healthcare workers have a high risk of getting coronavirus

The coronavirus infected at least 111,000 people and killed 3,300. Almost three quarters of all cases have been in China. The United States has over 600 cases; of these, 26 patients died.

Healthcare workers are particularly vulnerable to infectious diseases such as coronavirus for a variety of reasons. First, medical staff members are exposed to more viral particles than the general public. Second, they address potential shortages of protective supplies and tests as the tide of patients increases. Third, a combination of stress and long hours could make their immune systems more vulnerable than normal.

In China, nearly 3,400 health workers have contracted the virus. At least 13 have died.


A passenger receives a temperature check before boarding a flight in Tokyo, Japan on January 21, 2020.

Tomohiro Ohsumi / Getty Images

The United States could see 4.8 million coronavirus hospitalizations

Dr. James Lawler, a professor at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, offered estimates of how much the virus could spread in the United States in a February webinar hosted by the American Hospital Association.

His projections suggest that the United States could see 96 million coronavirus cases, 4.8 million hospitalizations and 480,000 deaths. Hospitals are expected to prepare for an impact on the system 10 times that of a severe flu season, the presentation said.

The CDC has lagged behind in the test and in the confirmation of suspicious cases: about 1,700 people have been tested since Sunday. This also puts healthcare professionals at risk of exposure, as limited tests increase the likelihood that patients will not be diagnosed and spread the virus in medical settings. In Solano County, California, a coronavirus patient was not diagnosed for four days each in two different hospitals last month last month because he did not meet the CDC’s coronavirus test requirements.

Over 200 employees between the two hospitals have been exposed and have had to self-quarantine for weeks. Three tested positive for coronavirus.

PHOTO PHOTO: an overview of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia, September 30, 2014. REUTERS / Tami Chappell / File Photo

A general view of the headquarters of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia.


“Healthcare providers may be exposed, other patients may be exposed and until people can be trusted with these responses, we are in a crisis here,” Yale professor Howard Forman told Business , radiologist and expert in insider healthcare management.

U.S. hospitals ask patients who suspect they have coronavirus to call in advance. In this way, healthcare professionals can ensure that they are taken to an isolation room and that all healthcare workers involved are wearing personal protective equipment.

But that’s not always the case, said Rosselli.

Warning of the UCSF coronavirus hospital in Wuhan China

Warning sign that reads “Have you traveled to Wuhan City, China in the past few weeks? If so, notify the reception immediately” at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) Medical Center on January 28, 2020.

Smith / Gado / Getty Images collection

“There are all types of workers who have direct contact with patients,” said Rosselli. “There is a much larger number of housekeepers, dieticians, technicians, radiologists, X-ray technicians, office workers.”

“It goes far beyond nurses and doctors,” he added.

Many health care workers from the Life Care Center have been exposed

At the Life Care Center in Kirkland, Washington, 13 residents and a visitor died. Officials reported that 70 out of 180 staff members had coronavirus-like symptoms as of Saturday. In addition, 26 firefighters and three police officers who have had contact with residents of the facilities are quarantined. Kirkland Patch reported that 12 of these patients had flu-like symptoms.

Tim Killian, the center’s spokesman, said the state provided enough test kits for all residents, but it was unclear whether there were enough kits to test all staff members as well.

The Harborview Medical Center home evaluation team carries protective and testing materials as it prepares to visit the home of a potentially exposed person in Seattle on February 29. REUTER: David Ryder.JPG

The Harborview Medical Center home evaluation team carries protective and test materials as it prepares to visit the home of a person potentially exposed to coronavirus in Seattle on February 29.

David Ryder / Reuters

In addition, 20 staff from the Valley Medical Center in Renton, Washington are tested for coronavirus after being exposed to a patient there. One has already tested positive and is isolated. Eleven are awaiting quarantine results.

Given the risk of staff shortages in hospitals like this, the CDC updated its recommendations for healthcare professionals and facilities over the weekend, eliminating the requirement for asymptomatic workers who had been exposed to a coronavirus patient to stay at home.

However, asymptomatic transmission of coronavirus has been previously recorded. A study last month found that a 20-year-old woman from Wuhan, China, passed on coronavirus to five family members without ever showing symptoms.

“I did it assuming that if something happened to me, obviously it would also matter to me”

After a potential exposure to a coronavirus patient in a Northern California Kaiser facility, an anonymous quarantined nurse released an open letter about her situation through the California Nurses Association.

“As a nurse, I am very concerned that not enough is being done to stop the spread of the coronavirus. I know because I am currently ill and in quarantine after taking care of a patient who has tested positive,” she wrote. “I am waiting for” permission “from the federal government to authorize my tests, even after my doctor and county health personnel ordered it. I volunteered to be part of the care team for this patient, who we knew positive. I did this because I had all the protective equipment and training recommended by my employer. I did it assuming that if something happened to me, of course I would also be treated. “

Many health workers are concerned about getting paid during the self-quarantine, Rosselli added. Some hospitals have not yet published guidelines to determine whether quarantines count as sick time, paid free time or unpaid time.

“It is not unusual for health workers to live week by week because they are generally working class people, especially in nursing homes where wages and benefits are lower,” he added. “If employers don’t commit to paying people if they have symptoms or contract the virus, we are concerned that people hide symptoms because they live week by week and can’t afford to take their jobs off without paying.”

Lydia Ramsey and Jessica Snouwaert contributed to the report.

Have you been personally affected by the coronavirus epidemic? Are you a frontline healthcare professional for this disease? Have you or someone you know been tested or diagnosed? We want to hear your story. Please email science+coronavirus@businessinsider.com.

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