When the pandemic began, healthcare workers were treated like heroes, as they were (and still are) risking their lives to care for patients with COVID-19. Burnout was prevalent, hospitals were overwhelmed, and it was, overall, a dismal time.
Now, with COVID-19 cases rising once again and hospitals handling yet another surge of patients, rather than being hailed as “healthcare heroes,” the mindset has overwhelmingly changed with many current guidelines treating healthcare workers as expendable.
In October 2021, the American Heart Association (AHA) updated its guidelines for CPR, stating that healthcare providers should not spend time donning PPE, including masks of any sort, before initiating CPR. In cases where CPR is used, when patients are in cardiac arrest, patients may be positive for COVID-19 or there may be other aerosolized particles present that can be dangerous as well.
Not wearing the appropriate PPE before entering such situations can be extremely dangerous to healthcare providers; patients’ health is very important, but providers should not be asked to risk their lives so that patients receive CPR 30 seconds to a minute quicker. Even though the AHA updated these guidelines with the expectation that healthcare providers giving CPR will be fully vaccinated, the omicron variant of COVID-19 is still highly transmissible, especially when neither the patient nor provider are wearing masks.
Many healthcare providers voiced their concern and outrage over these new guidelines, with one provider likening the situation to being on an airplane where people are told to put their own oxygen mask on before helping others. Similarly, in this situation, healthcare providers should be able to protect themselves from danger before helping others.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also recently changed isolation and quarantine guidelines for healthcare workers. Although some may argue that the changes in isolation guidelines for healthcare workers who test positive for COVID-19 may be attributed solely to new available information regarding the omicron variant, a statement in December read that isolation time can be cut further if there are staffing shortages in healthcare facilities. Healthcare facilities are still being overwhelmed and not enough support is given to healthcare workers.
Healthcare workers are not robots; they should not be forced or pressured into cutting down on their isolation and quarantine time, especially if they are experiencing symptoms. Having a shortage of healthcare workers in facilities is certainly not ideal, especially given how hospitals are being overwhelmed; however, the solution should not be to bring back healthcare workers who are sick and have barely recovered from their own symptoms.
And this can be applied to all workers — there should be a greater focus on their own health rather than company profits or duties. Quarantine guidelines should be expanded to ensure that workers do not feel obliged to come in not only before they are not contagious anymore but also so that they do not come in before they are physically capable.
Recently, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez emphasized this idea in an Instagram post. Ocasio-Cortez wrote that she recently contracted COVID-19 and detailed her experiences with the virus.
“the idea of forcing people to work just five days after symptoms start is sociopathic and 100% informed by a culture that accepts sacrificing human lives for profit margins as a fair trade.”Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez
“As of today I am thankfully recovered and wrapping up quarantine, but COVID was no joke. For a while I’ve noted the term ‘mild’ is misleading when the bar is hospitalization and death. Even ‘mild’ cases can result in long COVID, which includes a range of conditions like cognitive impairment, POTS and chronic fatigue,” Ocasio-Cortez explained in her post. “The idea of forcing people to work just five days after symptoms start is sociopathic and 100% informed by a culture that accepts sacrificing human lives for profit margins as a fair trade.”
Although the symptoms associated with the omicron variant of COVID-19 have appeared to be less severe than the symptoms associated with other variants, as Ocasio-Cortez pointed out, this is misleading and is not always true. Many who contract COVID-19 still feel cold and flu-like symptoms. Recovering from those symptoms and COVID-19 as a whole should be prioritized over going to work.
Some who contract COVID-19 also feel pressured to go back to work quickly as they need the wages. This speaks to yet another problem in the capitalist society we live in: people are driven by the need to earn money so that they can afford the bare necessities. People should not be compromising their own health because they cannot afford the consequences of not going to work.
Healthcare workers, and all workers in general for that matter, must be prioritized more; people should not have to go back to work so shortly after contracting COVID-19 because their job demands it or because, financially, they do not have a choice. This should occur by hiring and training more people to work in healthcare facilities so that they are less overwhelmed and short staffed and by compensating workers adequately and more fairly so they do not feel obliged to come into work while COVID-positive or while suffering from the symptoms of COVID-19. Guidelines should also be changed, such as the AHA CPR guidelines, so that healthcare providers can prioritize their own safety more.
The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted many flaws in the healthcare system already, especially in terms of the expenses of patient care. Clearly, the healthcare system is also flawed with regards to how healthcare providers are treated. It is high time that healthcare providers are prioritized and given the treatment they deserve.