Summa Health employees can continue working with mild COVID symptoms, hospital officials say

Coronavirus

AKRON, Ohio (WJW) – As with hospitals and hospital systems across the region, Akron-based Summa Health Systems is stressed with an overwhelming number of COVID-19 admissions.

“More and more floors are having to be converted to COVID specific floors. The emergency rooms are being overwhelmed with these patients that are coming into the hospital,” said Dr. Shanu Agarwal, Chair of Summa’s Infection Control.

“Right now we are obviously inundated with some of the largest numbers of COVID patients that are being admitted. We are, as of today, at 175 COVID admissions currently with about 85% of them being unvaccinated,” she added.

To meet their needs, the hospital system as been re-assigning some of their caregivers from their usual assignments to help where they are most needed.

“We are in a hard place here because we have all of these patients that need to be seen, but our front-line workers, our healthcare staff, some of them are out as well. So that’s putting just a great burden and, at the end of the day, we just want to take care of our patients in a safe way,” said Agarwal.

Following new guidance announced by the CDC last week, the hospital system has also changed its employee policies, allowing employees who test positive to continue to work if they do not have a fever or if their symptoms are mild.

The new CDC guidance suggests that the virus is most contagious several days before someone who is infected has symptoms and only in the early days of the infection.

“What they are finding with omicron, and that is about 93% of what is circulating now, what they are finding is you get sicker quicker and so you end up being sick days one or two and you are maybe contagious maybe one day after that and the rest is just the resolution of the symptoms,” said Summit County Health Commissioner Donna Skoda.

“We have followed guidelines that are provided by the CDC and CDC has provided strategies to help mitigate healthcare staffing shortages,” said Agarwal. “As we see more healthcare personnel that are out and with rising numbers of patients that have COVID and the hospital is just being overwhelmed, we had to have a process to bring back healthcare workers sooner than their isolation period, which was ten days.”

Agarwal says everyone, including patients, will be fitted with a hospital grade mask and other precautions will be taken to mitigate the spread of anything, including COVID.

“In my opinion, people are going out in public in grocery stores and in places and you are being checked out by somebody who is not wearing a mask and you are not wearing a mask, that is a much higher risk when you don’t know what the other person has and there is no source control,” said Agarwal

“This is where you know that this person is wearing a mask, whether they have COVID or not, and moving forward we know that two people wearing masks, the transmission is very low so yes, it could be very early in their disease, but we are controlling that with a mask and we are going to have strict guidelines for workers who are coming back,” she added.

Last year, the hospital system mandated vaccines for all of its employees, allowing for specific exemptions.

A Summa spokesperson tells FOX 8 that 100% of their employees have met the mandate or provided exemptions.

The hospital also has specific visitation policies for people coming into the hospital that have been in place since last summer.

Skoda says she would have no hesitation allowing a COVID-positive, asymptomatic healthcare worker providing care for someone following the current guidelines.

“The reason the CDC made the switch is they were keeping people home way too long. You know, they were no longer transmissible, they were no longer ill,” said Skoda.

The hospital system also continues to urge everyone who can, but has not yet been vaccinated to do so to try and lower the number of people who are sick enough to require hospitalization.

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