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‘Health care workers aren’t immune’

Avera Marshall working to avoid spreading COVID-19

MARSHALL — The COVID-19 surge is a health concern for the whole community — and one that can have an impact on crucial responders like health care workers.

“Certainly health care workers aren’t immune to COVID,” said Sonya Kayser, human resources officer at Avera Marshall. Since the start of the pandemic, Avera Marshall has had staff members who have had to quarantine because of a positive COVID-19 test or exposure to a COVID-positive person. So far, Kayser said, there haven’t been staff shortage issues. “We have been able to take care of the community safely.”

Avera Marshall staff spoke with the Independent this week about how COVID-19 is affecting health care workers in the area. While health care workers at Avera Marshall and other area facilities are taking steps to screen for symptoms and avoid spreading the coronavirus, they also face the risk of virus exposure outside of work.

New COVID-19 cases continue to be reported throughout the region. On Friday, the Minnesota Department of Health reported 5,552 new cases statewide. That total included 29 new cases among Lyon County residents. A Lyon County resident in their 80s was also among the 46 deaths reported statewide on Friday. It was the seventh COVID-19 death in Lyon County.

The rising number of COVID-19 cases across Minnesota has also raised concerns about its impact on health care providers and staffing at health care facilities. A study published by the Centers for Disease Control on Oct. 30 analyzed a group of 3,580 health care workers who were in MDH-monitored quarantine because of a high-risk COVID-19 exposure. Between March and July, about 57% of the health care workers were asked to come back to work before quarantine was over, and about 48% actually did return to work, the study said.

Avera Marshall was following CDC and MDH guidance on when staff members can come back to work after testing positive or being exposed to COVID-19, said communications coordinator Stacy Neubeck. Kayser said Avera Marshall would not necessarily want to bring staff members back to work early from quarantine because doing so could create longer-term problems with spreading COVID-19. Instead, Avera Marshall’s response has included “flexing” staff members to help cover gaps left by absences. Cheryl Verschelde, quality coordinator at Avera Marshall, said the Avera system’s centralized employee health office also works to provide guidance.

Current CDC guidance says people who have had high-risk exposure to a person who is positive for COVID-19 should self-quarantine for 14 days. People who are positive for COVID-19 and are showing symptoms should isolate until it’s been 10 days from the start of their symptoms and they have not had a fever for 24 hours, without fever-reducing medications.

Avera Marshall staff are taking a number of precautions to avoid spreading COVID-19 at work. Verschelde and Vickie Abel, director of organizational learning and volunteer services at Avera Marshall, said precautions included daily temperature screenings and using personal protective equipment throughout the day. Staff enter the Avera Marshall campus through only one door, and break rooms and dining areas are set up to give people 6 feet of social distance, Abel said.

So far, Abel and Verschelde said, a higher percentage of area health care workers have been exposed to COVID-19 in the community, rather than at work.

“The concern is what we’re doing outside of work,” Abel said. “The risk seems to be when we go home.”

Kayser said staffing levels and preserving core health care services are important parts of Avera Marshall’s COVID-19 surge planning. At the same time, Avera Marshall is fortunate to have the support of the Avera health system and partnerships with the Tyler and Granite Falls hospitals.

“We’re able to work together as a team,” Kayser said.

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