Providers in Oklahoma are skeptical of a new measure that allows asymptomatic healthcare staff members to continue working in long-term care facilities and hospitals even though they have COVID-19. 

The Oklahoma State Department of Health on Nov. 19 issued a notice to healthcare providers allowing the practice as a mitigation tactic against staffing shortages, and said providers should first “carefully consider all other alternatives and only take such measures as a last resort.” The state added that “if asymptomatic staff are allowed to continue working, this practice should be used to the minimal extent possible.”

The department later issued a revised notice on Nov. 23, clarifying that nursing home providers must first notify the OSDH Long-Term Care Department prior to engaging in the strategy. 

“At the end of the day, our utmost concern is for the health and safety of our residents and the staff,” Mary Brinkley, LeadingAge Oklahoma executive director, told McKnight’s Long-Term Care News on Wednesday.

“The health department has not issued any guidance for the requirements to use the asymptomatic staff. All they require is that you request approval,” she added. 

In addition to the lack of guidance, Brinkley noted that there are concerns among nursing homes about the risk it could pose for other non-infected residents and staff in those facilities. She added that COVID-positive workers also may not feel comfortable working under those conditions. 

“It has to be done in a very carefully controlled environment,” Brinkley explained. 

“I know some other states might be doing this,” she continued, “but in Oklahoma … I think what we’re missing is strict guidance to control this if providers should decide to do that.” 

Last week, Iowa issued updated emergency staffing guidance that allows for workers with confirmed COVID-19 to care for residents who are also positive or suspected of having the disease. The measure also allows workers with COVID-19 to care for residents without the disease but only in “last resort emergency staffing situations.”