SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- The California Department of Public Health reported Wednesday that 1,651 confirmed cases of COVID-19 have been among health care workers, a figure that is just under 10% of the state's confirmed coronavirus cases.
It was the first time the agency reported the number of all positive tests for health care workers. Previously, agency officials said, they had only reported cases "acquired while on the job."
"Since COVID-19 is moving rapidly within the community, health care workers now appear just as likely, if not more so, to become infected by COVID-19 outside the workplace," CDPH leaders said in the report. "As such, CDPH is now reporting the number of health care workers overall who are affected, regardless of where they were exposed."
Zenei Cortez, a registered nurse and president of the California Nurses Association, said she thinks it more likely that health care workers are acquiring the infections in the workplace and becoming vectors for community spread.
"What we're seeing is that workers are being denied the proper kind of protective equipment, the proper staffing and the proper training. It's just going to go up," Cortez said. "We are possibly vectors, and we still interact with our families and our communities. It's very frustrating that they continue to ignore what we need and what we want to have in order to take care of our patients safely."
Wednesday's larger number shows the overall impact of COVID-19 on the health care workforce, the CDPH noted, and regardless of the source of exposure, an infected health care worker should isolate themselves to prevent the risk of infection to colleagues and the patients they serve.
To date, CDPH stated, California has:
-- 299 health care workers who acquired COVID-19 in a health care setting
-- 462 health care workers who have been exposed via travel, close contacts or community transmission
-- 890 health care workers whose specific exposure source has not been reported.
"As testing capacity ramps up, and more tests are being conducted directly in physician's offices and processed through commercial laboratories," CDPH officials said in the report, "local public health officials will not be able to report the source of exposure for every affected health care worker. From today going forward, we will release the larger number of health care workers affected by COVID-19."
Cortez said that, as more tests become available to the front-line health care workers, the numbers of infected workers are going to go up.
"We are told we need to be reusing our masks, we need to be reusing our gowns," she said. "If you think about what we encounter as we go from patient to patient to patient and then we interact with our co-workers, the possibility of acquiring or getting the virus is so high."
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