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The University of Vermont Medical Center changed its staff exposure risk policy on April 9 to acknowledge that COVID-19 can be transferred through asymptomatic individuals. An earlier version indicated that this scenario presented zero risk for staff members.
The medical center, which spans across Vermont and northern New York, offered advice to staff in a document titled “What to do if you think you have been exposed to COVID-19.” The message defined relevant terms (like “contact” and “exposure”), offered hygiene tips and outlined how to assess risk based on whether a person showed symptoms, was awaiting test results or was confirmed as positive for the disease.
“If you have had contact with someone who is asymptomatic but that person had contact with a person with COVID-19, you are at NO RISK,” the document read. The Free Press learned this document was in circulation the week of April 5 and asked UVMMC about the policy. Though the hospital representatives did not immediately answer questions about the document, the Free Press learned Monday that the policy had been changed following the Free Press’ initial inquiry.
The hospital’s earlier guidance was at odds with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s advice for public health personnel, which can be adapted “to respond to rapidly changing local circumstances.” Some guidance is as follows for people interviewing and assessing asymptomatic individuals exposed to confirmed or suspected cases of COVID-19:
- Attempt to interview by phone, video conference, etc.
- If the interview must occur in person, do so at a six-foot distance.
- Wear a face mask if entering a home and ask the interviewee to do the same if possible.
The medical center has had 29 employees test positive for the disease as of April 13, according to communications with the medical center.
Symptoms of COVID-19 can include fever, cough and breathing trouble. Most develop only mild symptoms. But some people, usually those with other medical complications, develop more severe symptoms, including pneumonia, which can be fatal.
How UVMMC updated its policies for asymptomatic COVID-19 cases
The medical center is constantly updating its policies based on the most recent information made available, Neal Goswami, media relations specialist with UVMMC, wrote in an email. UVMMC will continue this process as more details come out regarding COVID-19.
“This includes the fact that we now know individuals who are asymptomatic can spread the disease to others – underscoring the importance of the public to continue to practice social distancing,” he wrote.
Studies tracking SARS-CoV-2 suggested asymptomatic transmission, according to information updated as of April 3 on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website. It’s thought that the highest risk of transmission occurs in symptomatic patients, but relative transmission proportions in pre- and asymptomatic individuals are not clear.
The center’s revised the language in its policy on April 9, according to Goswami. This is as follows, verbatim from the Free Press’s email communication:
- If you have had contact with someone who is being tested for COVID-19, if they live in your household, contact Employee Health COVID-19 hotline.
- When someone (patient or employee) tests positive for COVID-19, Infection Prevention investigates to determine if any staff members or patients had close enough contact (without proper PPE) to have been exposed prior to the positive test, and reaches out to them.
- If you have an exposure to a patient who is known positive COVID-19 and you were not wearing full PPE or your PPE failed, call the Employee Health COVID-19 hotline.
Dan D’Ambrosio contributed to this report.
Contact Maleeha Syed at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-495-6595. Follow her on Twitter @MaleehaSyed89.
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