Quebec allows some healthcare professionals infected with COVID-19 to stay on the job

Ambulances appear outside a hospital amid the global COVID-19 pandemic in Montreal on December 28, 2021. Quebec is working to avert a breakdown in patient care.Graham Hughes / The Canadian Press

Quebec plans to allow some health professionals who have tested positive for COVID-19 to return to their duties as the province works to avert a breakdown in patient care that could be due to thousands of medical staff missing work due to the virus.

The province’s health minister Christian Dubé on Tuesday described the decision as a necessity born of a difficult situation caused by the uninhibited spread of the Omicron variant. The province has not yet revealed the full details of the new policy, but officials say they are considering more measures to prevent the move from leading to more COVID-19 transfers.

“A few days ago, we were talking about 4,000 health workers who were absent,” Mr. Dubé, who spoke French during a briefing with journalists. “Yesterday it was about 7,000 and I think over the next few days we will reach 10,000 workers who will be absent due to COVID.”

Governments around the world are revising their COVID-19 strategies while Omicron is rising, even among vaccinated individuals.

Provinces introduce new health policies as hospitals prepare for Omicron’s proliferation

COVID-19 cases in Canada top two million as hospitals prepare for the unknown of the Omicron wave

In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Monday relaxed its recommendations on isolation and quarantine, prompting Canadian provinces to revise their own policies. Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said his government is considering easing the isolation rules for vaccinated people who test positive for the virus.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Monday that he would not introduce new COVID-19 restrictions in the UK before the new year – although Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales introduced new measures earlier in the week. In Germany, protests against COVID-19 restrictions became violent on Monday as protesters threw bottles and fireworks.

In Canada, several provinces set records for new infections Tuesday, including Quebec, which reported 12,833 cases. Hospital admissions for COVID-19 remain below the peaks seen in previous waves, although they are on the rise in Quebec and Ontario.

Omicron is extremely portable, and causes cases to double every other day in some jurisdictions. In Edmonton and Calgary, one in three people taking the polymerase chain reaction COVID-19 test is now positive for the virus, Alberta’s government said Tuesday. Montreal’s latest positivity rate clocked in at 24 percent. With so many people infected or exposed to those who are, large sections of the population are under orders to stay away from others.

Mr. Dubé said Quebec’s policy of allowing healthcare workers to return to work even if they are infected would be extended to other important workers in the coming days under protocols that are still under development.

Potential revisions to Quebec rules include allowing COVID-19-positive healthcare professionals to interact only with patients who have COVID-19, while not allowing those staff to take lunch breaks with colleagues, according to Horacio Arruda, the province’s public health director.

The province is trying to find a way to keep staff levels high enough to offer patients the care they need, without unnecessarily increasing the risk of COVID-19 proliferation, Mr Arruda said. To illustrate, he outlined a hypothetical scenario in which he himself had had a heart attack and needed emergency treatment.

“I want to make sure there are doctors to treat me, because I can die if there is nothing [staff]. And I would rather have a cardiologist or an intensivist who is infected do a good job with me than let me die of my heart disease. ”

Tara Moriarty, a researcher in infectious diseases and a professor at the University of Toronto’s medical and dental faculties, said that given the shortage of health care workers and the pending increase in hospital admissions, Quebec is out of options. Other provinces, she said, are likely to have to follow suit.

“It’s not good,” she said said. “But I do not think we have a choice.”

The alternative to shortened isolation and quarantine periods for staff is to reject sick patients. “Beds may exist physically, but without people to staff them, there is nothing we can do,” Ms. Moriarty.

It is important that all infected healthcare professionals who return to work early wear N95 breathing masks to help protect others, she said.

It was unclear how many workers would be able to return under Quebec’s new approach. Mr. Dubé did not respond directly when asked during the briefing, and the Ministry of Health’s communications staff did not respond to a request for clarification on Tuesday afternoon.

In a tweet, the head of the Quebec Nurses’ Union FIQ said it was “too risky to allow infected nurses – even asymptomatic ones – to work in the medical system.”

Meanwhile, Ontario said general visitors will no longer be allowed in long-term care homes, except for designated caregivers. The province also stopped social day trips for long-term care residents. The changes take effect Thursday and are temporary, the provincial government said.

“Given the high rates of community infection we are seeing with the Omicron variant, the time for more action is now,” Rod Phillips, Ontario’s long-term care minister, said in a statement Tuesday. “These new temporary measures will help keep residents safe and help critical staff stay on the job.”

Quebec, Ontario and Alberta all said they are investigating the CDC’s latest recommendation, which shortens the isolation period for people with COVID-19 to five days from 10, as long as they are asymptomatic. After getting out of isolation, people should wear masks when they are around others for five days, the CDC advised. (The Agency also adjusted quarantine rules for persons exposed to COVID-19, taking into account vaccination status.)

Mr. Kenney, Alberta’s prime minister, said his government might change the isolation rules later this week. Asked what the government is considering, he pointed to a policy in British Columbia that requires fully vaccinated residents who test positive for COVID-19 to isolate themselves for at least seven days from the onset of symptoms, compared to Alberta’s 10-day stretch.

Ms. Moriarty, an infectious disease scientist, believes Canada needs a “circuit breaker” – a two-week period in which interactions outside a person’s household will be limited to essential services only. Premiere has been reluctant to consider such severe lockdowns, but Ms Moriarty said Omicron may force them to do so.

“They will have to do it. What they are likely to do is wait until the hospitalization data is so severe that they can not stop it,” she said. “But of course, with exponential proliferation, that’s all. too late.”

With a report from the Associated Press

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