Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations
KPBS Evening Edition

California Urges Hospitals To Test All Workers For Virus

A man getting nasal swapped for a coronavirus test at the Tubman-Chavez Community Center, one of San Diego County's free testing sites, on Nov. 30, 2020.
Jacob Aere
A man getting nasal swapped for a coronavirus test at the Tubman-Chavez Community Center, one of San Diego County's free testing sites, on Nov. 30, 2020.

California has strongly recommended that hospitals test all their workers for the coronavirus each week as the state sees a surge of new cases and a record number of hospitalizations.

California reported 7,415 coronavirus hospitalizations on Sunday, the most ever in the state. More than 1,700 of those patients were in intensive care units.

A letter from the California Department of Public Health recommended hospitals test health care workers each week for the virus because they are at high-risk of contracting the disease and spreading it to other patients.

The letter also urged hospitals to test all patients before admitting them and to promptly test all current patients who start to show symptoms. The letter said hospitals should begin the tests the week of Dec. 14. They can start testing next week for health care workers who are at the most risk.

However, hospitals “must understand that routine ... testing of (health care workers) does not replace or preclude other infection prevention and control interventions,” Heidi W. Steinecker, deputy director of the California Department of Public Health, wrote in the letter to hospitals.

The California Nurses Association welcomed the news, calling it a “tremendous victory” for nurses.

“There are simply too many asymptomatic people with COVID, and without robust testing, our hospitals will remain centers for spreading the disease instead of centers of healing as they should be,” said Zenei Triunfo-Cortez, the association's president who works as a nurse in the San Francisco Bay Area.

California defines health care workers all paid and unpaid workers who have the “potential for direct or indirect exposure to patients.” The broad definition includes doctors, nurses, students, volunteers, security, laundry and administrative workers, among others.

The letter says workers who show symptoms should be tested immediately. Workers who have tested positive in the past three months and then returned to work do not need to be tested each week. They would only need to be tested if they show new symptoms or it has been more than three months since their infection.