Health-care workers must be ‘fit for work’ but don’t need negative COVID-19 test: Shared Health

New guidelines out of Shared Health allow health-care workers to return to work after having COVID-19 without a negative test result.

The guidelines, which went into effect this week, allow health-care staff to return to work as early as five days after the start of their symptoms or after they first tested positive for COVID-19.

The guidelines note that though health-care workers don’t need a negative test result to return to work, they must feel well enough for work and declare themselves, “fit for work”; must not have any lingering symptoms that interfere with their ability to adhere to PPE standards; and must be fever-free for 24 hours without the use of medication.

As for when health-care workers need to test for COVID-19, the guidance states that workers who show symptoms consistent with COVID-19 don’t need to test if they’ve had the virus in the last four months. However, those who have not had COVID-19 in the last four months and develop symptoms need to perform a rapid antigen test.

Shared Health’s return-to-work rules also state that health-care workers who live with someone who tested positive for COVID-19 can continue to work if they are asymptomatic. If they do develop symptoms, only those who have not had a confirmed positive COVID-19 test in the last four months are required to test.

A Shared Health spokesperson told CTV News Winnipeg that these updated guidelines are largely motivated by staffing challenges, as well as the risk staff illness poses to the continued delivery of health services.

The spokesperson added that this approach aligns with public health guidance, and still maintain the measures used throughout the pandemic to prevent transmission.

“We note that hospitals are one of the few remaining places where wearing a medical grade mask remains mandatory,” the spokesperson said in a statement.

The statement notes that the updated measures still require staff to screen for symptoms and declare themselves “fit for work,” while allowing some staff to return to work sooner to maintain services for Manitobans in need of health care.

Theresa Oswald, CEO of Doctors Manitoba, said in a statement that the organization advocates for a cautious and evidence-based approach.

Oswald said Doctors Manitoba is taking its time to review the updated guidelines and get expert opinion so it can provide the best advice to its members.

“What we know without question is that health care workers, including physicians, are at their limits with burn out and exhaustion,” the statement said.

“Any protocol that would pressure staff to return to work when they are not well is not something we could support.”

The full return-to-work guidance update can be found online. 

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