The increase in novel coronavirus infections has not spared health care providers and workers in many districts. Several doctors, staff nurses and workers have tested positive in the past few weeks in some of the districts where the cases are surging.

Doctors in many districts said there was an increase in the number of health care providers/workers testing positive. In fact, the majority of those who have tested positive worked in non-COVID-19 wards, a cross-section of government doctors said.

Several members of the workforce of government hospitals in Chennai tested positive in the past few months.

K. Senthil, State president, Tamil Nadu Government Doctors Association (TNGDA), said that in Madurai, very few health care workers who had served in COVID-19 wards had tested positive. “It was those who worked in non-COVID-19 areas, such as outpatient departments, who were infected. In the last two months, 45 doctors, 15 staff nurses and 25 other health care providers tested positive in Madurai. Of these, around 50% cases were in the last 10 days,” he said.

Doctors should be kept in reserve, and the full workforce should not be utilised at any given point of time.

The majority of doctors who work in the outpatient departments wear N95 masks, caps and gloves, and use face shields if they perform procedures. “There is no restriction on patient attenders. Though the overall OPD census has reduced, there is still overcrowding owing to the absence of norms. This is putting health care providers and patients at risk,” Dr. Senthil said.

In Tiruchi, four doctors and 7-10 staff nurses, besides hospital workers, tested positive in the past two weeks, a doctor said. “The quarantine period after COVID-19 duty was initially two weeks. It was reduced to seven days. Now, it has further been reduced to five days. This is of no use for health care providers or to the hospital,” he said.

He added that a post-graduate student tested positive and no doctor knew about it. “Only if such information is shared officially, those who came in contact can come forward for screening,” he said.

In Vellore, several staff members of a government COVID-19 facility and a private one tested positive in the last few weeks. Some doctors pointed out that many were already exhausted. They underscored the need to maintain physical distancing in outpatient departments and earmark facilities for frontline workers who tested positive.

“Hospitals are hotspots, but there are no norms in place. The TNGDA has already represented to the government that certain norms are essential… in non-COVID-19 and emergency wards. These include restrictions on attenders, not allowing those who do not wear masks and a ‘pass’ system,” Dr. Senthil said.

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