Manitoba now permitting health-care workers with mild COVID-19 symptoms, negative test result to go to work

The province is now permitting health-care workers who have mild COVID-19 symptoms but have tested negative for the virus to return to work. 

Memo says workers must either get negative PCR test or 2 negative rapid tests

A memo sent from the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority says health-care workers can now return to work even if they have mild COVID-19 symptoms, as long as they test negative for the virus. (Kyle Green/The Associated Press)

The province is now permitting health-care workers who have mild COVID-19 symptoms but have tested negative for the virus to return to work.

A memo from the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority sent Wednesday afternoon says workers who were off sick can now self-screen for their return. 

In order to do so, workers must either get a negative test result from provincial testing site or health-care facility, or two negative self-administered rapid tests, the memo says. 

Workers must also have mild symptoms and no fever without medication for 24 hours prior to their return. 

This self-screening process is in lieu of waiting for a call from the province's Occupational and Environmental Safety & Health COVID-19 line, the memo says. 

The memo goes on to say that if health-care workers experience new or worsening symptoms, they must let their manager know immediately and self-isolate until they get their test results back. 

A spokesperson for the WRHA said this is a provincewide policy that has been in the works for some time and not related to staffing challenges, pointing to an online memo from Shared Health that outlines the policy. 

However, a spokesperson for Shared Health says the province is expecting staff absences to increase in the coming weeks due to the rapid spread of COVID-19 in the community, though he could not say how many health-care workers are currently off sick due to the virus. 

"These protocols have been developed over the past several weeks as we have monitored rising sick calls both here and in other jurisdictions and reflect a responsible return to work for staff with mild symptoms but who have tested negative for COVID," the spokesperson said via email. 

Earlier in the day, Chief Provincial Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin said the province was looking into whether it would be possible to bring workers in isolation back earlier. 

"These are all of the questions that need to be balanced, the risk versus benefit. If we are seeing a quite a substantial strain due to illness on the health-care system where we're unable to provide care, then we need to look at these things and will certainly do so with the least amount of risk possible."

Manitoba Nurses Union president Darlene Jackson said she fears the policy could be "the thin edge of the wedge," moving the province closer to the situation in Quebec, where some health-care workers who have tested positive for COVID-19 are being allowed to stay on the job to protect hospital capacity.

"I feel as if our next step will be asking … health-care workers that have tested positive to put a mask on and come to work," Jackson said.

"I can see us moving in that direction as the numbers climb and as the beds become full, as the ICUs become fuller."

With files from Stephanie Cram