B.C. considers allowing COVID-positive health-care staff to work

·2 min read
ICU nurse cares for patient. Health officials across Canada are struggling with staff shortages at hospitals. (Evan Mitsui/CBC - image credit)
ICU nurse cares for patient. Health officials across Canada are struggling with staff shortages at hospitals. (Evan Mitsui/CBC - image credit)

To avoid further strain on B.C.'s health-care system, the province says it is considering allowing COVID-positive health-care workers to continue working in some capacity, even after they have tested positive for the virus.

"We expect that we're going to see increased absenteeism given the rates of transmission we're seeing in the community," Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said at a news conference on Wednesday.

Henry says the idea is still being examined by officials and they may have an update soon.

"We are looking at fitness for work for people who have mild illness in the health-care setting," said Henry.

James Mulleder/CBC
James Mulleder/CBC

"We need to look at what measures need to be in place to ensure that people who have a very mild illness or are asymptomatic are able to do work in those essential work settings, if needed," said Henry.

While the idea of having COVID-positive workers on the job is still being discussed, it's already receiving backlash from some in the health-care system.

In a statement to CBC, the Hospital Employee's Union, which represents more than 50,000 health-care workers in B.C., said while they agree that the impact of Omicron may lead to "further staffing shortages and compromise patient care... it is important to protect vulnerable patients and other workers, by staying home when symptomatic."

"In addition, we are concerned that some workers with mild symptoms could be putting their own health at greater risk by working instead of resting and recovering," said the union's secretary-business manager, Meena Brisard, in the statement.

Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press
Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press

The Hospital Employee's Union says the province needs to talk to health care unions while officials consider the "significant" change.

Henry said the province was closely monitoring the situation in Quebec where hospitalization numbers have climbed rapidly. In B.C., the number of people in hospital due to COVID-19 has remained relatively steady despite a surge in new cases.

On Tuesday, Quebec decided to allow some infected workers to return to their jobs on a case-by-case basis. Then on Wednesday, Manitoba announced it is now permitting health-care workers who have mild COVID-19 symptoms, but have tested negative for the virus to return to work.

Officials in Ontario have said they're considering similar measures, while Alberta has allowed unvaccinated health-care workers to continue working, with regular testing.

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