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Department of Health announces new requirements for Pa. hospitals regarding COVID-19 safety

Pennsylvania's Health Secretary signed an order that takes steps to protect healthcare workers from the virus.

HARRISBURG, Pa. — For months, many healthcare employees on the front lines of the pandemic have fought for more protections and safer working conditions. Pennsylvania’s Health Secretary, Dr. Rachel Levine, signed an order effective June 10, 2020 that addresses safety concerns.

The order requires hospitals to replace soiled, damaged or otherwise ineffective respirators upon request. Joyce Sciandra, an intensive care nurse at Wilkes-Barre General Hospital, said nurses previously had to wear the same mask all day, working with both COVID-19 patients and non-COVID-19 patients.

“They wanted us to go into this room, wear our mask. Then when we took it off, they wanted us to put it in a paper bag and save it,” said Sciandra. “Then, we’d take it into our next room and use it in our next room. I felt totally unsafe doing that.”

Secretary Levine’s order also requires hospitals to enforce universal masking for patients and visitors and test hospital staff members who come in contact with a confirmed or probable case of COVID-19. Early on, Sciandra had raised the alarm about a lack of testing.

“There was a patient that I kept pushing for [to be tested]. Then the doctor finally tested him and he was positive, but they did not test any of us. There were numerous nurses who were very upset. Some of the nurses were pregnant,” Sciandra explained.

RELATED: Pa. works on a formal plan to implement ongoing COVID-19 testing in nursing homes

The Hospital and Healthsystem Association of Pennsylvania (HAP), which represents more than 240 hospitals and health systems in the Commonwealth, could not be immediately reached for comment regarding the new state requirements. According to the Health Department, approximately 5,837 healthcare workers have contracted COVID-19 since early March.

RELATED: State Dept. of Health orders additional safety measures for all Pennsylvania hospitals

When asked whether she believes hospitals are prepared for a second wave of COVID-19 infections, Sciandra said staffing remains a big concern.

“I don’t know, I think we’re relaxing a little too much right now. I think we need to keep staff on,” added Sciandra. “They’re cancelling staff all the time and we really need these staff members to help us in the units if there is another wave.”