Several provinces considering allowing COVID-19 positive health workers to stay on job

Even as some provinces have reported record-high daily COVID-19 case counts, health experts are warning the real infection rate is likely much higher, pointing out that data has been clouded by holiday delays and with hospitals and testing centres reaching their limits.

After taking the holiday weekend off, a number of provincial and territorial governments are set to resume their COVID updates today.

Yesterday, Quebec Health Minister Christian Dube announced some health workers who have tested positive for COVID-19 will be allowed to stay on the job. He said the move is necessary to keep the healthcare system operational and the decision regarding workers will be made on a “case-by-case” basis.

The health system cannot maintain services while nearly 7,000 workers are home isolating because of a positive COVID-19 test or exposure to the virus, he said. He expects that number to rise to 10,000 in the coming days.

“Omicron’s contagion is so exponential that a huge number of personnel have to be withdrawn, and that poses a risk to the network capacity to treat Quebecers,” Dube told a news conference Tuesday.

Dr. Horacio Arruda, the province’s public health director, said COVID-19 positive health workers could be assigned to work with patients who test positive, be given extra protective equipment and would not be allowed to eat lunch with their colleagues who test negative.

Health officials noted the decision amounted to choosing the lesser of two bad options.

“We’re saying this is the best alternative compared to not providing care to the people,” Dube said.

Quebec reported 12,833 new cases and 702 hospitalizations, with 15 more deaths linked to the virus.

Manitoba and Ontario have said they are considering similar measures to avoid overwhelming their own health systems. Manitoba reported 825 new cases and five deaths yesterday, while Ontario reported 8,825 new infections.

Ontario also announced that beginning on Thursday, long-term care homes won’t accept general visitors or allow residents to leave for social reasons in order to avoid exposure to the virus.

Alberta’s chief medical health officer said the province recorded 8,250 cases between Dec. 23 and 28. Dr. Deena Hinshaw said hospitalizations remain “relatively stable” but noted it’s still too soon to know if Omicron will stress the health system.

In Atlantic Canada, Newfoundland and Labrador reported a record-breaking single-day count of 194 new infections. Nova Scotia confirmed 561 new cases, while New Brunswick reported 306 new cases.

British Columbia health officials announced 1,785 new cases, although they warned the data is preliminary.

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