Asymptomatic health workers at COVID-19 were able to continue working in Oklahoma

The Oklahoma State Department of Health allows health care workers who tested positive for COVID-19 but show no symptoms of the virus to continue working in hospitals and long-term care facilities.

But the Oklahoma Nurses Association is opposed to continuing the work of asymptomatic COVID-19 positive nurses and on Monday called the recommendation a “reckless” solution to the state’s understaffing.

Travis Kirkpatrick, Deputy Commissioner for Health, said asymptomatic health workers could only be used as a last resort for a short time where it was absolutely necessary. The agency re-examined the issue after some long-term care caregivers expressed concern that they would not be able to continue to provide care without this support.

“As some Oklahoma hospitals and nursing homes are understaffed, the Oklahoma State Department of Health will allow asymptomatic staff who have previously tested positive for COVID-19 to continue their work,” Kirkpatrick said in a statement. “This is already happening in many other states and we ask that it be used only in emergencies and in cases of extreme staff shortages.”

Healthcare professionals who have tested positive for COVID-19 should not be allowed to treat non-COVID patients. Hospitals and long-term care facilities will mostly be asked to self-regulate and develop their own protocols to prevent COVID-positive workers from coming into contact with non-COVID workers and patients.

Critics say it would be difficult for healthcare employers to completely separate COVID-positive and non-COVID workers when they share a lot of common space in facility entrances, corridors and restrooms.

Kirkpatrick stressed that this decision was not easily made by government officials and that only health care workers should be allowed to volunteer as long as they are asymptomatic.

“No nurse should ever be forced to work if they are asymptomatic,” she said.