Asymptomatic coronavirus carriers who work in the Quebec healthcare system are allowed to return to work in seniors’ residences and hospitals, even if they have not completed the quarantine protocols.
The directive came as a shock to healthcare personnel, who fear the likelihood of infecting vulnerable patients under their care. The Quebec government said that the directive was “a last resort,” hoping that it was not something they would never have to do.
“They are understaffed that they are ready to try everything to make us work,” said Kathleen Bertrand, president of the FIQ-Union of healthcare professionals for the North of the Island of Montreal.
On Thursday, the Center University of Health and Social Services (CIUSS) of the East-of-Montreal sent an order to its employees, entitled “Update on isolation and return measures at job.”
The CIUSS detailed that the Ministry of Health has been forced into this decision, due to “an unavoidable breakdown in service.”
An excerpt from the order read: “It is possible for asymptomatic COVID-19 employees to return to work by respecting certain criteria.”
"At present, this measure has not been applied," said CIUSS spokesman Christian Merciari.
When questioned on Friday, the Minister of Health of Quebec described that this directive came from the Directorate of public health.
“It is really in extreme cases... I hope we don’t have to use it,” said Danielle McCann, Quebec’s Minister of Health.
Through an email, the CIUSS explained that an employee with COVID-19 will be permitted to return to work only in the case of a “last resort, in the event that a break in service is inevitable.”
But before the CIUSS can call for the infected to return to work, they must first have exhausted all other conceivable possibilities.
“The National Institute of Public Health recommends that a risk assessment be carried out by the authorities in place to determine whether the presence of the worker who does not meet all the criteria for lifting the isolation is deemed essential.”
According to Radio Canada, a manager will have to approve the return of these healthcare workers, and these workers will be deployed to red or hot areas, where all the patients have already been infected.
A nurse from Maisonneuve-Rosemont Hospital spoke out, though she requested to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation. “I am asymptomatic, but I have Covid-19. [...] This implies that I must go out into society to go to work; I would risk contaminating the Montreal people who are still healthy, my colleagues, my patients who are already too vulnerable.”
There are undoubtedly other asymptomatic healthcare workers who are fearful of being pulled out of quarantine, potentially exposing others to the contagion.