(KTLA) – Controversial California guidance that temporarily allowed coronavirus-positive health care workers return to work without isolation has expired.
The California Department of Public Health issued the guidance last month, letting health care workers who test positive for the virus or are exposed to it to return to work immediately — without isolation and without testing — if they are asymptomatic and wearing N95 masks.
The guidelines spurred backlash across the state, with health care workers holding protests to speak out against the new rules, which they believed put both patients and workers at risk.
Labor groups representing health workers quickly denounced the guidance.
State officials said the changes, which expired Tuesday, were made “due to the critical staffing shortages currently being experienced across the health care continuum because of the rise in the Omicron variant.”
At the time, about a third of California hospitals were reporting “critical staffing shortages,” according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
The omicron-fueled surge led to shortages across many sectors, including at hospitals dealing with more COVID-19 patients flooding in.
Hospitals started weighing which surgeries to delay during the COVID-19 surge.
As the temporary rule expired, California health officials said they’re seeing “positive signs” that the spread of COVID-19 is slowing statewide and that the looser quarantine guidelines are no longer needed.
“While our health care system is still stretched beyond usual capacity with COVID-19 and non-COVID patients, adding additional workers has improved staffing challenges in many regions of the state and we no longer need this temporary tool,” the Department of Public Health told KTLA in an email.
Still, many hospitals in California are strained.
In the San Joaquin Valley, ICUs were at or near capacity, the health department said Friday, activating surge protocols that allow the transfer of patients to other hospitals.
“California has measures in place to respond to the surge and changing dynamics of the pandemic,” Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly said Friday. “ICUs in the San Joaquin Valley, where vaccination rates are lower, are nearing capacity. Californians will get through this latest surge by continuing to follow the science, including by getting vaccinated and boosted, which is the safest way to protect yourself from the virus.”