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Coronavirus-positive and told to keep working on the wards

Asymptomatic nurses in US and Belgium are asked to care for patients with COVID-19

Directives pose risk to healthcare workers colleagues and patients, says International Council of Nurses

Reports of nurses with coronavirus who are asymptomatic being asked to keep working are unacceptable, a global nursing body said.

Cases of asymptomatic nurses being asked to work on COVID-19 wards have been highlighted in the United States and Belgium.

Continuation of a crisis contingency

On 9 November, North Dakota state health officer Dirk Wilke, signed an order allowing asymptomatic coronavirus-positive staff to work on COVID-19 wards.

The North Dakota Nurses Association (NDNA) is urging reversal of the policy .

Directives pose risk to healthcare workers’ colleagues and patients, says International Council of Nurses

Woman being swab-tested for coronavirus
Picture: iStock

Reports of nurses with coronavirus who are asymptomatic being asked to keep working are unacceptable, a global nursing body said.

Cases of asymptomatic nurses being asked to work on COVID-19 wards have been highlighted in the United States and Belgium.

Continuation of a crisis contingency

On 9 November, North Dakota state health officer Dirk Wilke, signed an order allowing asymptomatic coronavirus-positive staff to work on COVID-19 wards.

The North Dakota Nurses Association (NDNA) is urging reversal of the policy.

A statement said: ‘We recognize this action was recently taken as crisis standard of care in order to continue providing patient care.’

‘NDNA urges that every effort be made to return to a non-crisis standard of care as soon as possible and advises that COVID-19 positive nurses must be allowed to determine if they are well enough to provide care.’

The NDNA also urged employers not to penalise nurses who choose not to work under these circumstances.

‘Protocol is for exceptional circumstances only’

Nurses in Belgium have been put in a similar position since October, when health institute Sciensano was commissioned by the Belgian government to create a protocol for coronavirus-positive but asymptomatic healthcare professionals to continue to work.

Sciensano told Nursing Standard this is only applicable in exceptional circumstances to ensure continuity of care, and only for those caring for patients with COVID-19.

The institute said asymptomatic healthcare professionals should be actively monitored for COVID-19 symptoms and must self-isolate when not at work.

International Council of Nurses chief executive, Howard Catton
Howard Catton

Practice with potential to increase risk ‘significantly’

International Council of Nurses (ICN) chief executive, Howard Catton, expressed concerns.

He said: ‘Such an action has the potential to significantly increase the risk to nurses, their co-workers and patients.’

Mr Catton said working with coronavirus, even asymptomatically, will only add to the mental strain nurses across the world are already experiencing.

He said asking nurses to do so was a result of under-resourcing.

‘When we see the dramatic and unacceptable consequences of this, it should result in political leaders committing to invest,’ he said.


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