Instead of providing jobs for unvaccinated healthcare workers who were fired over their COVID vaccine refusal, Rhode Island is instead revising its coronavirus quarantine and isolation guidance so that COVID-positive healthcare workers can continue to work especially if the place they work at are "facing a staffing crisis." The U.S. has faced a national employee shortage following Biden's COVID vaccine mandate and the healthcare industry is feeling its brunt.
"Facility administrators should be using their clinical judgment in making staffing decisions. For example, a facility may opt for a COVID-19 positive worker to only care for COVID-19 positive patients," Department of Health spokesperson Joseph Wendelken suggested, as per Fox News. The Rhode Island Department of Health are opting for a "last-resort, crisis-staffing option to COVID-19 infected healthcare personnel at hospitals and skilled nursing homes who are 'mildly symptomatic,'" the Providence Journal reported.
Employees of state-run Eleanor Slater Hospital received a memo last Friday saying that those who tested positive for COVID but are asymptomatic may continue working "in crisis situations for staffing" as long as they wear N95 masks. The memo arrived after Rhode Island issued new guidance that shortened isolation and quarantine period in some conditions.
Eleanor Slater Hospital has already utilized two symptomatic COVID-positive staff members over the New Year holiday weekend, Breitbart reported. Wendelken argued that the Department of Health prefers vaccinated COVID-positive workers to go to work rather than unvaccinated healthcare workers because unvaccinated folks are reportedly "at greater individual risk, given how many COVID-19 positive patients are in facilities."
Wendelken added that a vaccinated and COVID-positive healthcare worker "has a much lower viral load, compared to someone who is COVID positive and unvaccinated," stressing that "the likelihood of transmission is much less."
Rhode Island State Senator Jessica de la Cruz took to Twitter on Monday to challenge the state Department of Health, arguing that "[It's] time for the state to admit its mistake." She advocated for rehiring unvaccinated healthcare workers, who she described as "qualified [and] experienced professionals" who could help solve the staffing crisis.
Right before Christmas, Rhode Island reinstated a mask mandate that required masks in all stores, venues, and restaurants with a capacity of more than 250 people, 10 WJAR reported. For smaller retailers and restaurants, masks are required unless a patron presents a proof of vaccination. The statewide mask guidelines was announced on the same day the state Department of Heath announced that its COVID app, 401Health may be used to show proof of vaccination.
Elsewhere in Rhode Island, 80 Providence police officers are at risk for losing their jobs in two weeks as a COVID vaccine mandate nears its deadline for getting the shot, WPRI reported. Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza enacted the vaccine mandate last week that required all city employees to be at least partially vaccinated by January 14 or be subjected to "separation from city employment." In October, the city fired five firefighters who refused to get the vaccine. This week, 15 police officers tested positive for COVID.