CDC Updates Guidance on COVID-19 HCP Shortages

The updated guidance focuses on asymptomatic providers who are exposed to COVID-19.

It is important to maintain appropriate healthcare staffing to provide a safe work environment for healthcare personnel as well as safe patient care. Because of this, and potential shortages due to coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated a guidance to address staffing shortages at healthcare facilities.

New contingency strategies would allow asymptomatic providers who have had a higher-risk exposure to SARS-CoV-2 but are not known to be infected to shorten their duration of work restriction. Further, CDC updated to the guidance to allow asymptomatic fully vaccinated providers who have had a higher-risk exposure to SARS-CoV-2 but are not known to be infected to continue to work onsite throughout their 14-day post-exposure period.

In the guidance, CDC notes the need for healthcare facilities to understand their staffing needs and the minimum number of staff needed to provide both safe work environment and safe care for patients. The agency suggests healthcare facilities be in communication with local healthcare coalitions, federal, state, and local public health partners to identify additional healthcare providers when needed.

Contingency capacity strategies were implemented by CDC, so if staffing shortages are anticipated, healthcare facilities and employers can prepare to mitigate the problem. For one, CDC recommends adjusting staff schedules, hiring additional healthcare providers, and rotating healthcare providers to positions that support patient care activities. All non-essential procedures and visits should be cancelled, and healthcare providers should be shifted to work in areas to support other patient care activities in the facility. The facilities must ensure the providers are appropriately trained to work in new areas. Additional providers should also be identified to work in the facility and, if appropriate, request providers postpone elective time off from work.

It could also be beneficial to develop regional plans to find designated healthcare facilities or alternate care sites with adequate staffing to care for those with COVID-19.

What’s more, facilities should consider allowing asymptomatic providers who have had a higher-risk exposure to SARS-CoV-2 but are not known to be infected to shorten their duration of work restriction. Shortening the duration of work restriction might result in additional transmission risks, however. Those vaccinated should be prioritized to first shorten their duration of work restriction, then unvaccinated workers.

If staffing shortages continue despite mitigation strategies, CDC recommends as a last resort to consider allowing healthcare providers with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 infection who are well enough and willing to work but have not met all Return to Work Criteria to work. To determine which providers could be allowed to work, consider the type of shortages that need to be addressed and where the individual provider is in the course of their illness, along with symptoms and the degree of interaction with patients and other providers in the facility.