“… good intentions may do as much harm as malevolence if they lack understanding.” – Albert Camus
The strong recommendation issued last week by the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) to regularly test hospital workers for COVID-19 may have been born of good intent: to protect our vital health care workforce and make them feel even safer.
Unfortunately, that good intent may backfire. Pushing for weekly testing of asymptomatic hospital workers at a time when hospitals are seeing record numbers of COVID-19 patients and lab test materials are in short supply means there simply won’t be enough tests to accomplish this task, and may jeopardize test availability for our patients.
Scarce hospital testing resources, as a matter of necessity during a pandemic surge, should be concentrated on patients and individuals exhibiting symptoms of the virus or identified as having been exposed to an individual testing positive. As you know, unlike outbreaks that have occurred in nursing homes across the United States that triggered regular worker testing in that setting, hospital workers with protective gear are at lower risk of contracting the virus.
We hear your frustrations with this state recommendation, and we have taken your concerns to the highest levels, including the Governor, the health secretary, and other senior administration officials. Weekly testing has been a top priority for labor interests since the summer. Despite our efforts and many conversations with the Administration involving hospital and infectious disease leaders in the state, at this point the recommendation stands.
Given that, it will be important for hospitals to make their best effort to comply. It is also important that we dispel the myth that hospitals don’t want to test their health care workers, when in fact, hospitals throughout the state are doing their level best to manage a paucity of resources as augmented capacity has not yet materialized.
As of now, with the recommendation in place, every hospital should submit via email a good faith testing plan, based on the resources you expect to have available, using the CDPH template to the CDPH District Office no later than Monday, Dec. 7.
We have posed additional questions to the state and will share that clarification when received.
Of the 11 requests CHA has made to the state for operational flexibility in preparing for the surge, the testing recommendation is one of just two that has been resolved. Other issues still under discussion include nurse staffing ratio waivers, patient transfer protocols (utilizing the all-access transfer center only when county and regional capacity has been exceeded), and transparency into the state’s personal protective equipment stockpile.
Those issues are expected to be resolved in the coming days and weeks, and it’s imperative that the state clears the decks for hospitals to do their work, as their own projections suggest hospitalizations could triple by Christmas.
We will continue to keep you apprised of developments as they happen, as this information is critical during this unprecedented surge of COVID-19 cases in California.