PORTLAND — MaineHealth said today that it is altering slightly its policy with respect to how care team members return to work after a case of COVID-19, dropping a requirement for a negative antigen test following a completed quarantine period.

The change does not conflict with existing CDC guidance for returning health care team members to the workplace after contracting COVID-19, according to a press release Friday, Jan. 27.

Under contingency staffing criteria, the U.S. CDC allows care team members to return after five days of symptom onset as long as they feel well, are improving, and are fever-free for 24 hours without the assistance of fever-reducing medications.

Throughout the pandemic, MaineHealth has followed U.S. CDC guidance and at times has maintained even stricter standards than required. Most important, the press release said, care team members return only when they report feeling well enough to return.

Another of those stricter standards was to require a negative antigen test upon return in addition to the CDC criteria. However, with antigen tests in short supply and science that says the tests are not intended to screen for transmissibility, MaineHealth has decided to end the practice.

“We put the testing requirement in place as a way of providing additional assurance, but the reality is that the antigen test has not proven reliable in determining infectivity,” MaineHealth interim Chief Medical Officer Dr. Doug Sawyer said. “These tests are great for diagnosing COVID-19, and that’s what they should be used for, given the limited supply. That’s why testing is not required by the U.S. CDC in this setting.”

In addition to the CDC quarantine requirements, MaineHealth continues to employ a range of other precautions to assure that patients and care team members have the safest possible environment at its clinics and hospitals. These include a requirement that all care team members be fully vaccinated, as well as universal masking for patients and staff, additional personal protective equipment in clinical settings, and a daily health screen for all care team members that includes a requirement that they stay home when sick.

“Our hospitals and clinics remain among the safest possible environments when it comes to the risk of contracting COVID-19,” Sawyer said. “Consistent with our vision of ‘Working together so our communities are the healthiest in America,’ we are doing all we can to assure that we deliver safe, effective, and timely care.”

MaineHealth includes Pen Bay Medical Center in Rockport and Waldo County General Hospital in Belfast.