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DENVER (KDVR) — Hospitals across the state are now operating under a CDC contingency plan on how and when to bring doctors and nurses back to work after they test positive for COVID-19.

Conventional protocols — especially in a clinical setting — prohibit people from working while they’re sick. The rapid spread of omicron is changing that approach.

“Staffing has been our greatest challenge for quite some time,” said Cara Welch with the Colorado Hospital Association.

Welch said burnout and turnover are not the only problems. With the highly contagious omicron variant, more flexibility is needed after healthcare workers test positive. Under contingency guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, healthcare workers are allowed to be at work with minor cold-like symptoms. If they test positive for COVID, they can return to work with mild symptoms (free of fever) after a five-day isolation period.

The change in guidance means personal protective equipment is even more crucial.

“Part of what we see in the hospital setting is that the rate of spread is incredibly low because of our infection prevention measures,” Welch said.

Hospitals across Colorado are practicing CDC contingency staffing protocols. UCHealth, HealthONE, Centura and Denver Health all have return-to-work policies that are in line with the contingency guidance.

If staffing becomes too low, the CDC allows for no work restrictions at all. That would be known as “crisis mode.” Colorado hospitals have not reached that threshold.

Currently, five days of isolation, followed by another five days of strict mask-wearing is the standard advice for those testing positive. However, each case is different. The severity of symptoms can provide clues as to the level of contagiousness for each person.