QUIET HOSPITAL

Coworkers of two Inspira Medical Center Vineland workers who tested positive for the novel coronavirus were told Wednesday they can return to work without quarantine or testing if they do not show symptoms of COVID-19 infection, a hospital spokeswoman confirmed Friday.

VINELAND — Coworkers of two Inspira Medical Center Vineland workers who tested positive for the novel coronavirus were told Wednesday they can return to work without quarantine or testing if they do not show symptoms of COVID-19 infection, a hospital spokeswoman confirmed Friday.

Inspira revealed Tuesday night that two people who worked at the Vineland facility and in other Inspira locations were infected. In a news release, Inspira said all patients and staff exposed to either virus carrier would be quarantined, offered testing and counseling.

However, on Wednesday the hospital changed its mind because of updated information from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and from the New Jersey Department of Health, Inspira spokeswoman Molly Tritt said in an emailed response to questions Friday.

“In regarding to exposure to the asymptomatic positive patient #2, we did not need to quarantine the exposed employees,” Tritt said. “These employees could return to work. They will check their temperatures daily and note the absence of symptoms daily to their managers.”

A spokesperson for the state Health Department provided a copy of “Frequently Asked Questions: Healthcare Personnel and COVID-19,” a joint CDC/NJDOH document, when asked if the department had recommended no quarantine for the Inspira workers.

The document seems to leave it up to the employer to decide specific policies. It defines being a close contact of someone with COVID-19 as “being within 6 feet of a person for longer than 10 minutes.”

Close contacts who do not feel ill should “monitor your health for fever, cough and shortness of breath during the 14 days after the last day you were in close contact with the sick person with COVID-19,” the document states. “You may be asked to stay home or work with a mask during this period. This will depend on the policies and staffing needs of your employer.”

Inspira identified the two infected employees as a radiation oncologist, hospitalized with symptoms, and an asymptomatic surgical services employee who is quarantined at home.

The two, who are married, had recently returned from a European vacation, according to three coworkers who spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to speak to the press. Inspira would not comment on the infected employees’ travel history.

Inspira has not answered questions about why the symptomatic patient wasn’t quarantined after developing symptoms; and whether the hospital system has changed policies regarding screening all employees for signs of the virus, especially after they return from international travel. Tritt would only say Inspira is “following the guidelines set by the CDC in regard to international travel.”

According to the CDC, symptoms may appear two to 14 days after exposure. Symptomatic people are thought to spread the virus more easily, but symptoms are not necessary to spread the virus, according to some studies.

A study by the University of Texas at Austin found more than 10% of cases were spread by infected people who had not yet developed symptoms.

A Wednesday email from Paul Lambrecht, vice president of quality and patient safety at Inspira, told workers about the decision to let them return to work after being told Tuesday night not to report the next day.

“Members of the Surgical Services Team who are presently asymptomatic and who have had an exposure to a COVID-19 patient are permitted to continue to work,” Lambrecht wrote in the email, which one of the workers provided to The Press of Atlantic City. “All exposed personnel must self report to the Surgical Services management their temperature and absence of symptoms each day when they report to work.”

The radiation oncologist was admitted to Inspira Mullica Hill with symptoms, while his wife, a nurse anesthetist, is quarantined at home, the coworkers said.

Coworkers of the nurse anesthetist said they worked with her in the operating room and interacted with her in staff rooms and at lunch. While everyone is masked most of the time in the operating room, they are unmasked when they have close interaction outside the OR, they said.

The employees also said they have direct contact with patients who are members of vulnerable groups such as the ill and elderly, and they feel they should be tested to avoid unknowingly spreading the virus to those vulnerable populations.

Lambrecht said any member of the surgical staff who develops symptoms consistent with COVID-19, such as cough or fever, “must cease patient care activities, don a facemask (if not already wearing), and notify their supervisors AND Employee Health immediately and prior to leaving work.”

Contact: 609-272-7219

mpost@pressofac.com

Twitter @MichelleBPost

Staff Writer

In my first job after college got paid to read the New York Times and summarize articles for an early online data base. First reporting job was with The Daily Record in Parsippany. I have also worked in nonprofits, and have been with The Press since 1990.

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