BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) – Hospitals in Kern County are preparing for an imminent wave of hospitalizations coming from the rapidly spreading omicron variant. But, recent guidance for hospitals significantly decreases the time infected health care workers can spend out of work.
Hospitals are already feeling the strain. Emergency rooms and urgent care centers are flooding with COVID-19 patients. Under new state guidance and to prevent further staff shortages, asymptomatic workers who test positive could return to work immediately.

“If I have an employee or a health care worker who are very essential and they test positive, but they are not symptomatic, would I allow them to come to work?” Ghassen Jamaleddine, Chief Medical Officer for Adventist Health said. “ In a crisis, I would say yes, but we take precautions.”

That’s one of the many questions hospitals are asking as they prepare to combat the next wave of hospitalizations.

On Jan. 8, the California Department of Public Health issued guidance for hospital workers that test positive, allowing vaccinated, asymptomatic workers, to return without isolation or testing.

PPE like N-95 masks are required to be used in order for workers to return to work.

Dina Madden, Chief Nursing Officer with Kaiser Permanente in Bakersfield has seen how fast the omicron variant is moving among staff.

“We are seeing more people getting sick quicker,” Madden said.  “Staff is calling out with COVID during this current surge, we noticed it just after the holidays.”

Guidance from the state places trust in the vaccine’s effectiveness, as unvaccinated workers who test positive must isolate for up to 10 days and test negative before returning to work.

This is a temporary change in guidance due to expire on Feb. 1. Kern County is nearing critical hospital capacity and this practice might be placed in motion sooner rather than later.

“Severity of the illness is not as significant,” Madden said.  “And doesn’t last as long, we are noticing that the viral load is dropping quicker.”