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Fighting COVID-19: Supplies, testing and scams: CBC's Marketplace cheat sheet

CBC's Marketplace rounds up the consumer and health news you need this week.

Newsletter: Consumer and health news you need from the week

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A 15 minute blood test could reveal if you're immune to COVID-19. Should it be available for sale online? Home care workers lack proper equipment to keep themselves and their clients safe. And immune-boosting scams you should avoid. 22:30

There's a rapid blood test that can tell if you are likely immune to COVID-19. Why isn't it available in Canada? 

CBC obtained a COVID-19 detection test that was being advertised on Safecare Canada's website. (Jaison Empson/CBC)

Safecare Canada is being accused of illegally selling COVID-19 antibody detection tests before getting approval from Health Canada. An online advertisement claimed that with a drop or two of blood and a 15-minute wait, a person could find out if they were "recently or previously infected" with the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

These types of tests don't actually tell you if you have COVID-19, only whether you've had it. One of the company's owners, Jeff Lester, says their tests have been distributed all over the world, including in Italy, one of the centres of the worldwide outbreak. But for now, pending an approval, they won't be sold in Canada, even as regulators in the United States have given Safecare the go-ahead to start selling their tests to American labs.

Health Canada says it's still studying the issue, meaning that Canadians shouldn't expect to get their hands on one soon. Watch.

Home care workers are running out of personal protection equipment. That's making vulnerable clients worried.

Lindsay Couture is a home-care worker from Ajax, Ont. She worries what will happen when she runs out of personal protection equipment. (CBC)

They care for some of our most vulnerable populations, but some home care workers say they've already run out of personal protective equipment like masks and gloves and can't get more.

"I have no access to personal protective equipment. I don't feel comfortable at all, but my clients need me," says Lindsay Couture from Ajax, Ont. 

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says more relief is coming, but Natalie Mehra, director of the Ontario Health Coalition, says home care workers need help now.

"Why were the stocks not looked at? Why was it not discovered that 55 million masks in Ontario had become stale dated? Why was no effort made then to start procuring supplies?" she said. "People are extremely angry."

Sarah Trick has cerebral palsy and sees home care workers several times a day. She worries that people like her are being forgotten.

"It seems like resources are being diverted to hospitals which is good, however, there are health-care workers that are still working in the home and their work is just as essential," she said.  "They deserve to be protected too."

Marketplace reached out to local tattoo shops, nail salons and other businesses that use personal protective equipment to see if they could help out.

A tattoo shop donated boxes of gloves, masks, gowns and cleaning supplies to Lindsay, and a Toronto dental office stepped up to help Sarah with masks and gloves for her care workers.

Meanwhile there are nearly a million other Canadians from coast to coast that use home care, and Marketplace will stay on the case as more supplies begin to trickle in. Watch.

YouTube and Eventbrite remove misleading and harmful videos about boosting your immunity to fight COVID-19

Boosting your immune system is not as simple as taking a few vitamins, says professor Bernie Garrett. (CBC)

On websites like YouTube and platforms like Eventbrite, many claim to know just what you need to boost your immune system in order to fight off COVID-19.  But professor Bernie Garrett, who studies deception in health care, including alternative medicines, casts doubt on these claims.

"They're all based on nonsense, really," he says. "Immune response is a very complex thing. It's not just simply due to a few minerals and vitamins which can be thrown in like a magic bullet to boost your immune system. It doesn't work like that."

Many of these solutions, including some promoted by Doctor Oz, involve supplements and vitamins, while other people recommend more controversial remedies, like using colloidal silver, chaga mushroom blends, or oil of oregano.

It's understandable that in a time of uncertainty we'd seek solutions, but unfortunately there is not yet a cure for the virus or a way of becoming immune. 

Health Canada says if you've purchased health products that claim to prevent, treat or cure COVID-19, stop using them immediately. After Marketplace contacted Eventbrite, it said it is now actively investigating and will remove events promoting false claims. YouTube removed some of the videos after we flagged them. 

Garrett says the best thing you can do right now is simple: eat your fruits and vegetables and try to get some exercise and reduce your stress levels. Watch.

How to fight for a fair deal with consumer rights advocate Ellen Roseman

Consumer rights advocate Ellen Roseman says you can fight for a fair deal during the pandemic. (Richard Lautens/Toronto Star)

The COVID-19 pandemic has halted life as we know it. You can't go about your daily routine anymore and many people say they're left paying for services they're not using and want to know how to successfully negotiate to get their money back. 

Consumer rights advocate Ellen Roseman did a Q & A with Marketplace co-host Asha Tomlinson addressing a number of Canadians' concerns, including everything from rents and mortgages to daycares.

Here's how Roseman says you can fight for a fair deal.  

Asha Tomlinson: What are the options for people who can't pay their rent?

Ellen Roseman: I think that first of all, they should be very clear with their landlord that they are not going to pay their rent. I've seen online, some actual letters, templates for letters, that you can write to the landlord to tell them why you are not paying the rent, and just send it to them. 

Renters do have some concessions right now. There's a temporary suspension of evictions. In some provinces they're also making it clear that if you fall behind on your utilities, that won't be an issue, you'll catch up later.

Asha Tomlinson: One viewer had this question about mortgage deferrals: "You have two options, keep paying or you can pay a lot more later. The banks will either make their regular profits or enjoy even larger gains because of this health crisis. Isn't this a form of gouging?"

Ellen Roseman:  A mortgage deferral is very ambiguous. Some people probably thought the bank was going to absorb their mortgage payment. You'll pay interest on those interest payments that you didn't pay earlier. So it does sound like a form of gouging.

So what I got from talking to financial planners is, it sounds inviting, but the way the government wrote it ... it's for people in real financial need. If you're in a household with two incomes and things are slower than before but if you can manage to pay them on time, you're probably better to pay your mortgage payments and not defer them. 

A credit expert said that because these payments are going to be late, the two credit bureaus in Canada — Equifax and TransUnion—might not have the ability yet to show … a deferred payment versus a late payment. So they might be putting something negative on your credit report and your score, which doesn't look good. 

I wouldn't say that you should defer your mortgage just because it sounds like free money. Decide if you really need to do it, and for many families that's again just going through their budget and figuring out what comes first and if they can afford to keep paying those payments. Do it the right way, and don't defer because that's for people who are in terrible hardship.

I'd say that the best thing to do is if you had a mortgage broker that helped you with the mortgage, call them up, see what their advice is. They usually have the computer system to be able to figure out the numbers, to crunch the numbers and come out with exactly how it would work in your case. And if you bought it directly from the bank, then see if you can find someone in the bank to go through it with you.

Asha Tomlinson: Can a daycare continue to charge fees when they're shut down?

Ellen Roseman:  It doesn't sound right to me, you know, that they should charge fees when they are shut down. 

Well, if you are paying a daycare it's probably like any other payment. If it's on a credit card, you can go to your credit card company and see if they can help with that. If you are taking it out of your bank account, you might talk to your bank about suspending payments, maybe they'll help you with that.

Maybe if they can come up with a compromise for you, rather than taking all the money out, maybe they just take a portion of the money out … if you're comfortable with your daycare, hope to get a compromise of some kind, if you can.

Asha Tomlinson: What do you think the best strategy is to contact Ticketmaster for people who can't get through to get a refund on tickets for cancelled or postponed events?

Ellen Roseman:  I usually search for a media contact or public relations contact because that's who I use as a reporter, but I think that for the public if you can find that, then you have a name and a phone number and often an email address. Sometimes you can really get through to them by just telling them about your circumstances, the fact that it's so important for you to get this money back, is there a way that they can help you escalate your complaint. 

My advice to you is to be as succinct as possible. Don't give a long story because nobody's going to listen. Please don't start getting too emotional, just be very factual, tell them the circumstances and if you can get to the right person, they will often cancel ... and give you a cash refund.

If you can't get anywhere ... you can go to your credit card company. Most of these tickets are bought on a credit card, and say: "I don't want to go through with this, times have changed, my circumstances have changed. I really can't afford it. Can you put in a chargeback?" which means that the money that was taken out of your account is charged back to the merchant.

Asha Tomlinson:  So many costs involved with a wedding. You've got the photographers, caterers, the venues … How do you cancel these services or reschedule without paying more?

Ellen Roseman: Wedding venues in general tend to have non-refundable deposits. They will make it harder and harder to cancel as you get closer to your wedding date. 

Asha Tomlinson: One of our viewers was told if he wanted to reschedule his wedding, he would have to pay a change fee. Should that be allowed at a time like this?

Ellen Roseman: It shouldn't, but it's like the airlines. If you want to change your trip, they're charging a change fee. So when you hear about these extra fees, just say, "I can understand under normal conditions this might be applicable, but  this is a special case, this is a time when everything is different, and we're finding it hard enough to reschedule our wedding, to reschedule all our guests ...  but we want to have the best possible day and it worries us if we're feeling that the financial penalties we are paying are going to take away from our joy on this day. 

So you do have some power as a consumer to say, "Isn't it better to have my wedding at a future date, without charging me these fees, as opposed to making me so angry that I'll cancel right away and do something completely different."

After this, there might be a lot of couples who are really changing their wedding plans and it will be harder for these venues to book. They should be happy to have a loyal customer who can accept some changes, but doesn't want to pay penalties to make those changes. 

Asha Tomlinson: How can Canadians negotiate in this new normal?

Ellen Roseman: Talk to people in your network and say, "Do you negotiate with these companies? What are your tips on how to do it? What do you find successful?"... Be concise, try and put it in writing. Phones take a lot more time so if you can put it in writing, do it on email, do it on chat. 

You take the top three, your biggest complaints, no more than three and just let them work on that. Try to write it in a way that it's not just one giant paragraph that goes on for three or four pages. So do all that and follow up with a phone call. Try to get to a point where you can escalate; remember that word escalate because that [is a word] companies understand — it means 'go up the ladder.' Try to find a real person to talk to, so get out of the call centre if you possibly can and find a way to escalate it to a higher level.

What else you need to know

Five myths about preventing COVID-19
Lemons, gargling with salt, inhaling hot air are some of the false claims circulating online.

Disinfecting in the pandemic? Don't forget your dirty cellphone, experts say
"You want to keep it as clean as you would normally your hands," says microbiology specialist Jason Tetro.

Prescription change meant to safeguard supply in COVID-19 crisis triples fees for some patients
Pharmacies are now filling prescriptions monthly, instead of once every 3 months, as COVID-19 sparks supply fears.

This week on Marketplace: Our season finale

It's been an exciting year for Marketplace. Our investigations have taken us all over the world; We investigated how Taiwan is handling COVID-19; we travelled to Malaysia to see how our recycling is ending up in their landfills; to India to confront scammers trying to defraud Canadians out of their hard-earned money; even to Sweden, to find out how they're working hard to give citizens the right to repair their broken appliances. 

Here at home, we investigated school violence across the country, the claims made by SmileDirectClub, fake Google listings for locksmiths, and even put some of the top basketball sneakers to the test to see which of them performed the best. 

Plus, we got the scoop on online credit score monitoringfound out just how loud restaurants can get before you might experience hearing loss, and put milk and coconut oil under the microscope.

The next time you rent a car, you might want to check out our investigation into rental cars too. It's a good primer on how to avoid getting ripped off.

Finally, we went undercover inside the dangerous anti-vaccination movement, debunked myths that you need blue-light lenses to protect your eyes from digital screens, looked into the illegal sale of skin-whitening creams, and found counterfeit goods being sold online from popular retailers, such as Amazon, Wish and AliExpress. 

As we confront the pandemic together, we're going full speed ahead with new investigations, and you'll see us on The National, CBC News Network, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, and of course, on CBC.ca. 

We hope you'll tune into this week's finale. It's a special one. 

Watch the full episode here, and past episodes of Marketplace, on CBC Gem, YouTube, and CBC TV.

Take care and hang in there,

The Marketplace Team 

We want to hear from you

Are you on the frontlines of the pandemic? Have you come across a misleading claim or scam online? We need your help. Email us at marketplace@cbc.ca