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COVID Positive Nurses Told to Go to Work

North Dakota is allowing sick nurses to care for patients in hospitals and nursing homes

Kris LaGrange's picture
Nov 18, 2020

Across the country, COVID-19 cases are spiking. Harkening back to the dark days of March and April, hospitals are becoming overrun with sick patients. This is putting a strain on nurses and doctors who are realizing that some health systems seemed not to have learned their lesson from the spring outbreak.

In North Dakota, the outbreak is at its worst. The state has consistently refused to institute measures like a mask mandate and now has the highest mortality rate of any state or country in the world at 18.4 per 1 million people. The state also has the lowest rate of mask usage in the country, which would be expected since the Governor only instituted a mask mandate on Friday. Neighboring South Dakota, whose mortality rate is 17.4 per 1 million, still hasn’t issued a mask mandate.

With so many people sick, the state is facing a shortage of staff and PPE. Nurses say that they are being asked to test sick patients while only wearing a surgical mask, instead of a N-95 mask. Other hospitals are facing a shortage of beds.

Fearing that sick nurses would lead to a shortage in staffing, state officials made a head-scratching move by announcing that nurses that tested positive for COVID-19 could continue to come to work instead of quarantining until they have a negative test. As of Monday, this was the policy for both hospitals and nursing homes. As expected, nurses are not happy with this new standard.

“Nurses are very highly trusted in our community, and if we are saying we can go back to work after testing positive, how do we expect the public to take this pandemic seriously?” Tessa Johnson, president of the North Dakota Nurses Association, told The Daily Beast. “I have heard that from a lot of people that they are at their breaking point. I think we are going to lose nurses from this. It has affected everyone in a different way.”

According to Governor Doug Burgum, the order only covers nurses who are asymptomatic, although the CDC says that asymptomatic carriers can still infect others. By allowing COVID positive nurses to continue to work with sick and vulnerable patients, the state is putting more people at risk of spreading the virus.

The union that represents the nurses opposes the move by Burgum saying "NDNA recommends that all other public health measures to reduce the demand on the health care system and address staffing shortages are deployed before implementing this particular strategy."

According to a recent survey from the National Nurses United, more than 70% of hospital nurses said they were afraid of contracting Covid-19 and 80% feared they might infect a family member. More than half said they struggled to sleep and 62 reported feeling stressed and anxious. Nearly 80% said they were forced to re-use single-use, PPE, like N95 respirators.

"They're just exhausted and they're unprepared," Johnson said. "And so, the majority of nurses I think will stick it out because it's just kind of what we do, we don't want to bail on our patients. But also, it's really difficult to be put into a situation where you feel unsafe and you feel your patients may be unsafe because you can't give the care that they need."



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