As COVID-19 spreads—Illinois reported 673 new cases today—hospitals across the state are working to ensure they have enough staff to safely care for patients. Some are bringing back retired clinicians. At least one is bringing back workers who may have the virus.
University of Chicago Medicine today announced that, starting tomorrow, it's bringing back workers who were furloughed after a potential exposure to COVID-19. Only asymptomatic faculty and staff will return to work, while those who have tested positive for the virus or are exhibiting symptoms will stay home.
To prevent staff from infecting other workers and patients, the academic medical center is requiring all personnel to wear some type of face mask while on campus, according to a statement.
"Because the disease continues to spread in our community, we must assume anyone can be exposed at any time and are expecting a surge of infected patients in the coming days," Dr. Kenneth Polonsky, executive vice president for medical affairs at UChicago, said in the statement. "We are optimistic that having a universal-masking policy, ending furloughs for asymptomatic employees, and practicing effective social distancing will mean we can protect our workforce from viral spread so that they, in turn, can continue to perform critical services for patients in need and serve the community."
Prior to the new policy, workers were furloughed if they had been exposed to someone with COVID-19, without the proper personal protective equipment, or if they had recently traveled to restricted countries.
Acknowledging the high demand for protective equipment, UChicago said cloth face masks will be used to prevent workers' respiratory droplets from landing on surfaces or other people. But when caring for patients with respiratory illness, employees will continue to use surgical masks and N95 respirators.
Meanwhile, Gov. J.B. Pritzker has asked medical professionals that recently left the field, as well as those who live out-of-state, to "come back and join the fight against COVID-19."
As of yesterday, at least 180 retired nurses, doctors, physician assistants and respiratory care therapists had applied to have their professional licenses temporarily restored, the Chicago Tribune reports. And Advocate Aurora Health is among hospitals bringing back retired clinicians as some workers remain quarantined due to possible exposures.
As of Thursday afternoon, UChicago was treating more than 50 patients who had tested positive for COVID-19 and more than 70 people under investigation—"and that number is probably going up as we're talking," Dr. Emily Landon, executive medical director of infection prevention and control at the hospital, said during a call with reporters.
The hospital so far has decided against rehiring retired medical professionals since they're more at risk for severe illness from COVID-19, Landon said, adding that even current employees who are at risk are given the option to opt out of direct patient care.
"UChicago Medicine brings back employees exposed to COVID-19" originally appeared in Crain's Chicago Business.