Amid new surge in cases, Dignity Health to allow employees experiencing mild COVID-19 symptoms to keep working

A major health care provider in Arizona will allow employees who are experiencing mild COVID-19 symptoms or are asymptomatic to keep working at its hospitals and facilities.

Because of the omicron variant’s rapid spread in Maricopa County and in anticipation of a continued increase, Dignity Health officials said they have enacted the "third tier" of the federal guidelines for health care workers with the coronavirus.

"These guidelines allow COVID-19 positive health care personnel who are asymptomatic or improving with mild symptoms to work without a quarantine period," Dignity Health officials said in a statement. "We are doing everything we can to ensure our employees can safely return to work while protecting our patients and staff from the transmissibility of COVID-19."

A memo sent to Dignity Health staff members said those who are infected with coronavirus and feel well enough to work may request clearance to work from their manager.

However, those employees would need to wear an N-95 mask for 10 days after they tested positive.

The omicron variant spreads even more easily than other coronavirus strains, and has already become dominant in many countries. It also more easily infects those who have been vaccinated or had previously been infected by prior versions of the virus.

Though early studies show omicron is less likely to cause severe illness and hospitalization than the previous delta variant, hospitals statewide remain crowded.

Health officials in Arizona on Sunday reported 69 more deaths from COVID-19 as the omicron variant continued to spread.

The state also reported 15,850 additional confirmed infections.

That followed Saturday’s total of 88 deaths and 16,504 cases, the most Arizona cases reported in one day in a year.

The state has tallied less than 1.5 million cases and under 25,000 deaths during the pandemic.

According to Johns Hopkins University data, Arizona’s seven-day rolling average of daily new cases tripled over the past two weeks from 2,945.6 on Dec. 23 to 9,091.6 on Thursday.

The state’s rolling average of daily deaths dropped from 60.9 to 55.3 during the same period.

Doctor speaks out

One doctor said he was worried that it would come to this.

"We're frustrated that we're at this point, because I feel myself and many other healthcare workers have been saying for months: we're concerned if we don't stem the tide, we're gonna see things like this," said Dr. Ross Goldberg, Vice Chair of Surgery at Valleywise Health.

Dr. Goldberg said resources have been stretching thin for months, and with staffing shortages throughout the country, he understands why Dignity had to make such a tough decision.

"It's do you have staff come in that are COVID-positive, or do you not have enough staff to take care of the patients," said Dr. Goldberg.

Dr. Goldberg said he has not heard of a similar policy at Valleywise so far, but he is urging people to get vaccinated and take precautions, before other health care networks have to make the same, hard decision.

"Be smart and be safe. Just be mindful where you are. Realize this can spread," said Dr. Goldberg. "We really need everyone's help. This is for everyone's benefit, not just for COVID, but heart attack, car accidents. We want to make sure there are beds available, and staff available to take care of you."

The Associated Press (AP) contributed to this report.

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COVID-19 symptoms

Symptoms for coronavirus COVID-19 include fever, coughing, and shortness of breath. These, of course, are similar to the common cold and flu. 

Expect a common cold to start out with a sore or scratchy throat, cough, runny and/or stuffy nose. Flu symptoms are more intense and usually come on suddenly, and can include a high fever. 

Symptoms of COVID-19 may appear more slowly. They usually include fever, a dry cough and noticeable shortness of breath, according to the World Health Organization. A minority of cases develop pneumonia, and the disease is especially worrisome for the elderly and those with other medical problems such as high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes or heart conditions.

RELATED: Is it the flu, a cold or COVID-19? Different viruses present similar symptoms

COVID-19 resources

CDC Website for COVID-19 (In Spanish/En Español)

AZDHS Website for COVID-19 (In Spanish/En Español)