DOH Again Revises COVID-19 Exposure Return to Work Guidance 

Situation Report | January 11, 2021

On January 7, the state Department of Health (DOH) again issued a ‘return to work’ guidance for staff exposed to confirmed or suspected COVID-19 cases. This guidance revises a prior December 26 notice.

According to DOH, the purpose of this update is to provide clarification on the next steps for health care entities with current or imminent staffing shortages that threaten essential patient services.

HCA had raised concerns that the December 26 notice was too restrictive, having removed a prior exception for staff shortages. That exception allowed for the return to work of health care personnel who have been in contact with (i.e., exposed to) a confirmed or suspected case of COVID-19 if “furloughing such [personnel] would result in staff shortages that would adversely impact the operation of the health care entity and all other staffing options have been exhausted.”

According to the latest guidance, certain asymptomatic health care personnel who have had exposure to or been in contact with a confirmed or suspected case of COVID-19 (see the guidance for further definition) may return to work after a 10-day quarantine without testing if no symptoms have been reported during the quarantine period and if they meet the below conditions:

  • Continue daily symptom monitoring through Day 14.
  • Are counseled to continue strict adherence to all recommended non-pharmaceutical interventions, including hand hygiene, the use of face masks or other appropriate respiratory protection face coverings, and the use of eye protection.
  • Are advised that if any symptoms develop, they should immediately self-isolate and contact the local public health authority or their health care provider to report this change in clinical status and determine if they should seek testing.

Staff Shortages

Home care and hospice are also listed among entities and service providers who may allow exposed health care personnel to return to work early upon approval of the Commissioner of Health in the event that the provider has “an actual or anticipated inability to provide essential patient services.”

Before requesting this authorization, health care entities must ensure that they have mitigation strategies in place such as those outlined in the CDC’s December 14 Strategies to Mitigate Healthcare Personnel Staffing Shortages.

Health care entities should go to the Return to Work Waiver to complete the required checklist and upload the signed CEO attestation documenting that the facility has implemented or attempted to implement staffing mitigation strategies and is experiencing a current or imminent staffing shortage that threatens provision of essential patient services. Upon the Commissioner’s review and approval of this request, a health care entity will be allowed to implement crisis capacity strategies to mitigate staffing shortages.

Agencies are advised to call DOH’s Surge and Flex Operations Center at (917) 909-2676 if they are concerned about staffing or patient care capacity but not to request authorization to allow exposed health care personnel to return to work early.

The guidance provides additional information on the conditions under which exposed health care personnel may return to work under crisis capacity strategies, if approved by the Commissioner of Health.

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