COVID test result delays means many missed pay, work: union leader

·3 min read
Jerry Earle is the president of NAPE, Newfoundland and Labrador's largest public-sector union. (Submitted by Jerry Earle - image credit)
Jerry Earle is the president of NAPE, Newfoundland and Labrador's largest public-sector union. (Submitted by Jerry Earle - image credit)

The leader of the province's largest union says Newfoundland and Labrador's public health officials ought to apologize for leaving people in the dark about COVID-19 testing delays.

Jerry Earle, the head of NAPE, said residents inside and outside his union were frustrated and concerned when their test results were delayed for several days. He said some have made big sacrifices as they were forced to isolate longer while their tests were flown out of province.

"It's financially impacted some people, we have people in this province that don't have paid sick leave," he said Tuesday.

"People were extremely concerned, people were frustrated, they were being adversely affected and they could have avoided all of that for a simple explanation ten days ago."

Health Minister John Haggie revealed Monday that thousands of tests were flown out of the province, as public health labs in Newfoundland and Labrador were over capacity.

Haggie apologized to patients who faced excessive delays, but said government didn't know when the results would come in and said they were as transparent as possible given the circumstances.

Earle says health-care workers in the province knew "for some time" that tests were being shipped out, and said the province's top health officials could have saved a lot of heartache if they told the public what was happening.

"People would have understood it," he said. "It's just simple information sharing because people have enough stress on their plate right now across Newfoundland and Labrador."

Eastern Health, which operates the provincial public health lab, said in a statement that it sent the first tests out of the province on Jan. 5, but didn't immediately reply to follow-up questions about when those arrangements were made.

'Pure frustration'

Kate McLeod and her boyfriend, Aaron Lundrigan, were two people affected by the delayed results — it forced Lundrigan to use many of his sick days while he waited for answers.

Submitted by Kate McLeod
Submitted by Kate McLeod

McLeod started feeling some flu-like symptoms on New Year's Eve, but didn't have any known contact with a confirmed COVID-19 case. She was tested on Jan. 3, but didn't get her negative test result until the 9th.

During that six day period, she says she didn't go anywhere, and her boyfriend was in a state of limbo. If McLeod tested positive, he'd have to enter isolation as a close contact, but when the test result didn't come, he wasn't sure what to do.

"He can't work from home, and obviously because I was tested, he wasn't allowed to go to work. So he had to take four sick days, and that was super annoying for us," McLeod said.

"After the 72 hours [of waiting] passed, it was just pure frustration, there's no other word really to describe it."

Mario Tama/Getty Images
Mario Tama/Getty Images

Earle says he's heard from others that missed work because they needed to get a negative result before they could leave isolation.

"I can only imagine from what I heard how broad this must have been," he said. "There certainly, probably, was hundreds upon hundreds of people affected, if not more."

Under current public health directives, negative tests are required to leave isolation for people considered a high-risk close contact who do not show COVID-19 symptoms.

The Department of Health did not respond immediately to questions about what individuals should do if they are still waiting for their result past their mandatory isolation period.

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