What if you get COVID-19 as a travel nurse?
If you’re looking to take a travel nursing assignment soon, it’s important that you familiarize yourself with what policies are in place should you become sick with COVID-19, become directly exposed to someone with COVID-19 or need to quarantine.
Many agencies will still pay you if you need to quarantine or take time off to recover from COVID. That said, policies vary, depending on the area and the facility’s guidelines. Make sure you understand exactly what you need to do and how a possible exposure, infection or quarantine could affect you.
Here’s what travel nurses need to know about COVID and quarantining.
Ask the Right COVID Questions
Before you sign a contract for a travel nursing assignment, be sure to ask all the right questions about COVID and quarantine. By now, most travel nursing agencies are well-versed in COVID-19 policies, be sure to ask about:
- What testing requirements are in place for travelers, both for suspected infection and for return to work?
- What happens if you test positive for COVID?
- What happens if someone in your household tests positive for COVID-19? Do you still have to quarantine?
- Will you be paid for any quarantine time?
- Will you still be paid if you are sick with COVID-19?
- What happens if you need to be hospitalized? Will insurance cover the cost? Is there a time limit for your compensation?
- Are there different policies in place for fully vaccinated travelers?
- Is a COVID-19 vaccine available to you through this position if you would like one?
Be sure you understand:
- Policies in place should you need to quarantine or if you get sick with COVID-19.
- What payment you’ll be eligible for under those circumstances.
- Any steps you must take to ensure you are paid even if you are placed on quarantine or if you need time off to recover from a COVID-19 infection.
Know the CDC Guidelines About COVID Quarantine
Although you will ultimately follow your agency and facility’s protocol and policies, it can also be helpful to fully understand what the CDC recommends for quarantining with COVID. The CDC recommends you quarantine for 14 days if you’ve been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19.
“Close contact” is defined as:
- Coming within 6 feet of someone for 15 minutes or more
- Caring for an infected person at home
- Direct physical contact (including hugging or kissing)
- Sharing eating or drinking utensils
- Contact with respiratory droplets from an infected person’s cough or sneeze
In some situations, that could very well include an infected patient, especially if you were not outfitted with the proper PPE or in an emergent situation that was out of your control.
In some situations, quarantine length may be reduced to only 10 days but guidelines for that will come from the local healthcare department. This is another reason it’s important to find out details about the assignment before accepting any travel nursing assignment as a traveler.
The CDC also has healthcare worker-specific guidelines about when you can return to work after you’ve had COVID. The guidelines vary based on the severity of your illness and whether you have any immuno-compromised conditions that may impact your recovery. In general, the CDC says that healthcare workers who had mild to moderate COVID infections and are not severely immunocompromised can return to work if they meet the following criteria:
- 10 days have passed from symptom onset
- Fever-free without medicine for more than 24 hours
- Symptoms (other than loss of taste/smell) are improving
The loss of taste and smell can linger for weeks and months, which is why the CDC doesn’t count it as a symptom that should prevent you from returning to work.
COVID-19 Resources for Travel Nurses
Many travel nursing agencies have also put together COVID resources for travel nurses including everything from extra mental health benefits to support should you fall sick while you’re alone in temporary housing.
Ask your agency what resources are available to you as a traveler, especially if you are working in a COVID unit or current COVID hot spot. Potential resources include:
- Telehealth services
- Pharmacy services
- Meal delivery services
- Mental health resources and support
- Workers’ compensation
- Health insurance
If you’re fully vaccinated
If you’re a nurse who has chosen vaccination and has completed both doses of either the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines (Johnson & Johnson is only one shot), then the rules change a bit for what you need to know about quarantining. You are considered to be fully vaccinated two weeks after you receive your final vaccine dose. The two-week mark is because it takes several weeks for your body to form antibodies in response to the vaccine, so, to be fully protected, it’s best to wait at least two weeks.
According to the CDC’s most recently-released guidelines for fully vaccinated individuals, if you’ve been directly exposed to COVID-19 but it’s been more than two weeks since your last vaccine dose, you may be protected. Here’s what the guidelines say for fully vaccinated people:
- If you’ve been exposed, you don’t need to get tested for COVID-19 unless you develop symptoms.
- If you’ve been exposed, you don’t need to quarantine, unless you develop symptoms.
- If you live in a group setting, such as a correctional facility or a group home, you should get tested and quarantine for 14 days.
But even if you’re vaccinated, you’ll need to follow any protocols your own workplace puts into place, so always check with your agency and contract hospital for exact rules and precautions.
Of course, if you have been fully vaccinated, be sure to make several copies of that vaccine card and let your nurse recruiter know, as it may be valuable information for your future assignments.