State Watch

North Dakota nurses call for mask mandate, reject policy allowing COVID-19-positive workers to stay on job

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A North Dakota nurses union is rejecting a policy that would allow COVID-19-positive nurses to continue treating patients at coronavirus units of hospitals and nursing homes if they are not symptomatic.

In a statement released Wednesday, the North Dakota Nurses Association said the policy does not address the root of the problem and called for a statewide mask mandate and other public health measures to be implemented first. 

“NDNA recommends that all other public health measures to reduce the demand on the health care system and address staffing shortages are deployed before implementing this particular strategy,” the union said.

The new policy was announced Monday by Gov. Doug Burgum (R) as a way to ease pressure on hospitals that are short-staffed and nearing capacity as COVID-19 cases surge uncontrollably throughout the state.

North Dakota is currently the worst-hit state in the country in terms of coronavirus cases per 100,000 residents, and one of 15 states without a mask mandate.

The health department recommended that people try to slow the spread of the coronavirus by taking steps such as physical distancing and wearing masks in public places, but has not made them mandatory.

North Dakota health department data said Thursday there were fewer than 10 percent of staffed hospital beds available.

The union said it recognizes that the move aligns with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention “crisis” guidelines, but that the decision about whether a nurse who has tested positive for COVID-19 can return to work should be up to the nurses and not their employers.

“If a nurse believes they are not well enough to provide safe patient care and chooses not to work under these circumstances, employers should not retaliate against the nurse for making this decision,” the union said.

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