As more of its workers have tested positive for the virus, "it impacts the number of personnel who are available to process the tests," Gin said. That, combined with "the Great Resignation" of workers both inside and outside the health care field, means that "there are not as many individuals who are available, even on a seasonal basis, as there have been in the past," Gin said.
Testing positive generally means health workers should stay home, although federal and state officials recently cut back the minimum recommended period for many coronavirus-infected people to isolate. The federal move alarmed some public health officials and labor unions, including National Nurses United.
California set out its own recommendations for health care workers to go back to work, which differ depending on whether they have gotten booster shots, and permit the isolation period to be truncated if there is a "critical staffing shortage."
At Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, where nurses are picking up additional shifts and traveling nurses have been hired in anticipation of the surge, the revised rules are expected to help get employees back to work safely, said Dr. Jeff Smith, its chief operating officer.
"We want to make sure we're doing it appropriately and not putting our staff or our patients at risk," Smith said. He noted that with the newest variant of the virus, "infectiousness is shown to peak within the first couple days and then drop off relatively rapidly."
Health officials have urged people without symptoms to not head to the emergency room or urgent care for COVID tests that can be found elsewhere. But Ghaly urged patients not to delay medical care that they need.
Despite the growing pressure on hospitals, her department has surge sites to expand capacity and can call on the state for help with staffing, she said.
"We're not in a crisis situation in Los Angeles County," Ghaly said.
(Times staff writer Rong-Gong Lin II contributed to this report.)
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