COVID-19 testing protocols for frontline health workers can vary from zone to zone

·3 min read

With concern rising about the availability of vaccines and whether health-care workers are tested often enough, Public Health Sudbury and Districts (PHSD) has provided information on the actual requirements for COVID-19 testing for frontline workers.

One of the most often-asked questions is about workers in Long-Term Care Homes. PHSD said the frequency of testing for staff in LTC homes depends on the zone status of the local health unit and the type of testing that is done; whether it is the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) or the rapid antigen test.

-In green and yellow zones, a PCR test is required every two weeks.

-In orange, red, and grey zones, a PCR test every week is recommended as a minimum.

Under the current province wide shutdown, staff in all Long-Term Care Homes across the province are required to be tested once weekly at a minimum.

-If staff is using the rapid antigen test, the test is required at a minimum of twice a week during the province wide shutdown, said PHSD, with information from Ontario's long-term care surveillance testing website.

It is a different story for home care and community care providers. Although routine testing "is recommended" for Personal Support Workers (PSWs) for example, there is no formal requirement for testing.

Home and community care providers are required to conduct self-assessments and follow the policies of their employers with regards to routine testing. If the staff fails the self-assessment screening, they should inform their employer and seek testing. Though routine testing is recommended, there is no formal requirement for testing, said PHSD, with reference to an Ontario Public Health guidance document.

For retirement homes, the testing rules are less stringent. A memo released last year recommends staff testing every two weeks, but it is not mandatory.

"The memo from the Ministry for Seniors and Accessibility and Ontario Health on June 9, 2020, recommends testing of all retirement home staff (e.g., front-line workers, management, food-service workers, contracted service providers, basic aids, and guest attendants) every two weeks, and of residents of retirement homes at risk of outbreaks. While this is not a mandatory requirement, the intent of this testing is to help protect the health of residents and staff and prevent the spread of infection, said PHSD. The information was referenced from a provincial guidance document. For hospital staff, the rules can be expected to be tougher depending on where the nurses or PSW's might be working. The Ministry of Health has provided an Acute Care Guidance document, but it lacks specific information. This takes into account that all persons admitted to hospital are screened and tested if they show even the mildest and most basic symptoms, such as sneezing, coughing or sore throat. If anything the document spells out how hospital staff can avoid becoming infected from patients and visitors.

Also hospitals have stringent infection prevention and control procedures that all staff must adhere to.

The Ministry of Health has guidelines, along with several updates and additional guidance documents that tell hospital-based health-care workers that they must continually self-monitor for any symptoms and present themselves for testing anytime they feel they have a symptom or have had a high-risk exposure to a patient.

The Ministry of Health guidance said testing would be required for: "Any staff who cared for the patient who had close prolonged contact within two meters not wearing appropriate personal protective equipment, and the case was not wearing a mask."

The guidance also said testing could be done on workers at specific outbreak locations.

"Asymptomatic workers and residents at specific outbreak sites may be considered for testing at the direction of public health. These individuals should be directed to seek testing at an assessment centre."

Len Gillis, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Sudbury.com