Sask. government's guidance questioned as Workers' Compensation Board says it won't accept rapid tests

Saskatchewan employees who don't get a PCR test to confirm their COVID diagnosis won't be eligible for support from the Workers' Compensation Board (WCB.) 

Workers' Compensation Board doesn’t accept rapid tests as proof of COVID-19 diagnosis in Sask.

A medical worker collects a swab sample from a woman for a RT-PCR COVID-19 Coronavirus test in Ghaziabad, India, on Sept. 27, 2020. The Saskatchewan government has said asymptomatic people who test positive on a rapid test should not get a PCR test to confirm the diagnosis. (Prakash Singh/AFP/Getty Images)

Saskatchewan employees who don't get a PCR test to confirm their COVID-19 diagnosis won't be eligible for support from the Workers' Compensation Board (WCB). 

Last week, the provincial government began advising people who test positive on a rapid antigen test, but are asymptomatic, to forgo the PCR test and instead assume they have COVID-19. Symptomatic people trying to get a PCR test have also been unable because of long wait times at testing centres. 

The WCB covers COVID-19 claims if there is a confirmed link between an employee's exposure and their job. However, it is not accepting rapid test results from people, "as there is no way to obtain a medical report confirming these results," a spokesperson said Wednesday. Compensation requires "a known medical diagnosis provided in a medical report."

This means that if a person catches COVID while on the job — and then develops long-COVID later on — they will not be eligible to make a claim unless they have proof with a PCR test documented on their health record. 

WCB support crucial for long-hauler

Andre Herle has been "immensely" supported by WCB throughout her experience with COVID-19. 

"Without WCB I would probably be back to work and struggling," she said.

Herle submitted her first claim after she contracted the virus in December 2020. Herle is a licensed practical nurse, and got the virus while caring for COVID-19 patients. For her first claim, she was required to show WCB proof of her PCR test and evidence to prove she contracted the illness at work.

She eventually returned to work, but in February she was severely ill and hospitalized. She had suffered a small COVID-related stroke and is still navigating several long-COVID symptoms.

She said she is grateful her claim to WCB for long-haul recovery was approved.

"I wouldn't have had physio for the last year, because my benefits would have run out, so that's huge."

Herle is working on healing with professionals who are assessing her progress for WCB. She said she hasn't felt pressured to rush back to work, and no one has suggested she should "just get over it" or that she's faking it. It's a relief for her, both mentally and physically. 

Andrea Herle breastfeeds her one-year-old daughter, Stevie, in Regina General Hospital while undergoing tests and scans for a COVID-related stroke. (Submitted by Andrea Herle)

Susie Goulding, a COVID long-hauler and founder of the online support community Covid Long-Haulers Support Group Canada, said many people have been assisted across the country through workers' compensation. However, she also knows there are other long-haulers who have been denied service. She worries that number will grow as PCR tests dwindle and Omicron rips through the community. 

"There's many reasons why you need that PCR positive test, including benefits," she said.

Goulding said the denial of compensation and support could mean long-haulers may never recover. She noted there can be several barriers to care beyond compensation without a PCR test. 

"Whether it be physical rehab care, whether it be benefits, whether it be just having recognition and diagnosis."

Opposition, SFL encourage PCR tests 

Critics of the government are questioning why it is pushing people toward rapid tests without planning for how they will be acknowledged by institutions like the WCB. 

"It's a little bit scary for workers that test positive, especially because in many, many cases, there's a requirement to show proof of illness, whether it's for sick time or WCB or employment insurance," said Saskatchewan Federation of Labour President Lori Johb. "I don't believe that many employers, if any, would accept the results of a rapid test that's done at home." 

She called on the Saskatchewan government to expand access to PCR testing. 

Official Opposition Leader Ryan Meili said there needs to be a conversation about how to get rapid tests verified as wait times for testing grow. Meili, who is also a doctor, also encouraged people seek out the PCR tests.

"Get that confirmed," Meili said. "Because if down the road if you have longer term health issues as a result of COVID-19, you will need that evidence."

People lined up outside the COVID-19 testing facility in Saskatoon waited for hours to get their tests, according to estimated wait times on Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2022. (Chanss Lagaden/CBC)

Government lacks answers to WCB question

On Wednesday, Saskatchewan's chief medical health officer Dr. Saqib Shahab did not provide clarity when asked by reporters about the potential consequences for people who do not acquire a PCR test to prove diagnosis. He deferred the question to the Ministry of Labour Relations and Workplace Safety and WCB (which then clarified it would not accept rapid tests as proof of diagnosis). A spokesperson for the ministry said the question didn't fall under its jurisdiction. 

On Thursday, Sask. Public Safety Agency president Marlo Pritchard provided a COVID-19 update to the province and was similarly asked why the government is encouraging people to avoid PCR tests when places like the WCB will not accept the results of the rapid tests. 

He and his counterparts couldn't provide a response.

with files from Adam Hunter, Bonnie Allen


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