Island hospitals have enacted new protocols for dealing with staff who have COVID-19, or symptoms of it.
Health P.E.I. says it's now a certainty that some staff are going to be close contacts of people who have COVID-19 in the community, or possibly pick up COVID-19 themselves — but the province only has so many doctors, especially surgeons and other specialists.
For those who are close contacts, they're now allowed to return to work with a rigorous "daily testing regimen," said Health P.E.I. CEO Dr. Michael Gardam.
"What we're doing is called a test-to-stay protocol, which essentially means if you've been exposed and you are a contact we will test you daily and still allow you to work," Gardam said.
"To not do that, we would get in to serious trouble where we could simply run out of staff … the entire country is looking at this."
Hosptial staff working with COVID would be a 'last resort'
Gardam said crucial staff members could be allowed to work even if they have COVID-19, but only if it means potentially saving a patient's life or preventing serious harm.
This type of work would surely be "a last resort," he added.
"We are going to reach a point where this might come up, and I think it's important for us to raise it before it happens," he said.
"So to be clear, we have not done this and my hope is to be that we won't have to do this, but I want to be prepared that if we do we're ready to go."
Gardam stressed there would be a tremendous amount of care and caution in making a decision to allow someone with COVID to work, and that the "select circumstances" that would allow for this to happen may be necessary because of P.E.I.'s short-staffed health-care system.
The situation comes with a list of safety protocols, such as:
The chief public health officer must be notified.
The person must wear personal protective equipment (PPE), physically distance from others and take breaks in isolation.
The decision would be reassessed daily and the person backfilled as soon as possible.
"What makes us a bit different from other provinces is they talk about being short-staffed, but we have even less resiliency in our staff," he said. "We have some key roles that very few people can fill, and if those people get sick then we have to decide whether we need them to come back to work even if they have COVID."
Gardam said Health P.E.I. has been in talks with staff unions about the contingency plan.
He added that allowing people to work with COVID is not something Health P.E.I. plans to allow frequently, "it's something that we hope would be very very rare."
Over 400 cases on P.E.I. announced this week
On Monday, the province announced 156 new cases over the weekend. Then on Tuesday, P.E.I. announced 118 new cases.
On Wednesday, there were 129 new COVID-19 cases, as well as one new hospitalization. That makes for over 400 cases announced since Monday.
There are now 526 active cases of COVID-19 on P.E.I. and there have been 13 recoveries since Tuesday. The latest cases push P.E.I. to 1,022 since the pandemic began.
Health P.E.I. also said there's a shortage of staff in testing labs because of community spread of COVID-19 and that these rule changes will allow some staff, such as close contacts, to go back to work to ease the backlog.
"Islanders need to know that our health-care system is going to be there for them, they also need to know that they're far more likely to catch COVID in the community than they are in one of our health-care facilities … we will be there if something goes wrong," Gardam said.