Colorado healthcare workers no longer have to worry about going into quarantine if they contract COVID-19. The state says that 95% of all doctors, nurses, and providers have been fully vaccinated against the disease, so they can keep working even if they test positive. However, they will be asked to stay home if they start feeling ill.
The decision is designed to help providers stay on the job, reducing staff shortages in hospitals and clinics across the state. It could set a new precedent as we enter the next chapter of the pandemic.
A Sigh of Relief for Colorado
The state isn’t out of the woods yet, but things are getting better. Right now, officials say just 10% of facilities are expecting staff shortages, which translates to around 8 to 10 facilities across the state. That marks a dramatic improvement compared to just a couple of months ago, when more than a third of all facilities in the state were experiencing shortages.
As more providers get vaccinated, facilities are less likely to put their staff in quarantine after possible exposure to the virus or as they await their test results.
According to Dr. JP Valin, the chief clinical officer for SCL Health, “At one point we had a couple hundred staff out at a time, either because they were being quarantined or tested. Today we have two.”
Valin says most providers seem to contract the virus while away from the hospital, either at home or out in public. Now, they don’t have to stay home if they test positive for COVID-19.
“If they are exposed and have an exposure to COVID, they can now just simply monitor for symptoms. They do not have to quarantine and stay away from work,” Valin said. “If they were at any point to develop any type of a symptom, we would want them to quarantine and get them tested for COVID.”
As of Feb. 15th, there were just 411 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 in Colorado. During the winter surge in the first week of December, there were four times that amount, showing us just how far we’ve come.
The same trend is playing out nationally. According to the U.S. COVID Tracking Project, there were 67,023 people hospitalized with COVID-19 symptoms over the last couple weeks, compared to over 130,000 people last month.
“The case declines that we’ve seen have been massive since mid-January, falling far more than the number of tests reported,” the COVID Tracking Project recently tweeted.
Working Without Fear of Infection
Vaccinating providers can help facilities retain essential staff to care for coronavirus patients; it also gives everyone, including both patients and providers, some much needed peace of mind in clinical settings.
“Without staff, you can’t care for patients coming into our hospitals,” said Amber Burkhart, public policy director with the Colorado Hospital Association. “Now that many of our health-care workers are vaccinated, it’s helpful when they’re in the hospital. When patients come in, there’s not necessarily that threat of them becoming infected by COVID-19.”
Hospitals across the state are breathing a sigh of relief after the winter surge, now that they don’t have to worry as much about filling short-term shortages or rationing care. Many facilities, including those with the Banner Health network, were forced to bring in providers from out of state to handle the surge in patients.
“After going through the first surge, them mustering up what they needed to do to get us through the second one was tremendous,” said Carrie Haas-Vukosovich with Banner Health. “Luckily, Colorado surged at a different time than Arizona, so we were able to help each other out.”
In addition to the vaccines, community spread is decreasing as well, which reduces demand for healthcare services.
“What’s most important is that the positivity rate across the state has decreased significantly, so every Coloradan is doing their part to ensure the spread of COVID is not continuing,” said Burkhart. “They [health-care workers] are less likely to come into contact with someone who has COVID-19, which helps protect them when they go into work and are working with vulnerable patients.”
As more providers roll up their sleeves to get their vaccine, we could see other states take a similar approach in the months to come.