Jae-Sung Chon is allowed to call his employees back to work five days after they’ve tested positive for COVID-19, provided they’re fully vaccinated and asymptomatic.

The Free Press

For Manitoba. For 150 years.
Forever with your support.

Anniversary special: 150 days for $1.50

Jae-Sung Chon is allowed to call his employees back to work five days after they’ve tested positive for COVID-19, provided they’re fully vaccinated and asymptomatic.

He wouldn’t, though.

"I would (add) a couple more days, at least… to be safe. For the staff’s sake, for the public’s sake, for my sake," the Make Coffee + Stuff owner said.

Manitoba announced the change in isolation requirements — from 10 days to five for fully vaccinated, asymptomatic people since testing — on New Year’s Eve. Symptom-free individuals must wear medical-grade masks in public spaces for five days following their five-day quarantine.

Unvaccinated and semi-vaccinated people infected by COVID-19 must isolate for 10 days after their testing date.

"I trust the government and health regulations… but I take (the rules) as the minimum," Chon said.

He’s cut back his staff to two part-time employees and some family members. Now, he’s usually the one behind the counter, making coffee and delivering it to tables or curbside.

He said he feels safe despite not knowing whether asymptomatic customers might be recovering from the virus. There are capacity restrictions, necessary proof-of-vaccination for dine-in, distancing and mask-wearing.

But, the new measures likely won’t help business, he said.

"People don’t feel safe," he said, adding the rising case counts and cold weather have caused street traffic to drop dramatically.

Manitoba announced the isolation changes in a news release, and government officials have been on holiday since then, meaning they haven’t made themselves available to answer questions.

When asked Monday why the change was made, a government spokesperson referred to the Dec. 31 news release.

"We have looked at data from Manitoba and other jurisdictions, and feel these changes will balance reducing the spread of COVID-19 while ensuring critical services can continue to operate," Dr. Brent Roussin, chief provincial public health officer, is quoted as saying in the release.

British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Ontario have made similar changes. It comes after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended isolation be shortened to five days in the U.S. for asymptomatic people or those with resolving symptoms.

Science demonstrates viral transmission generally happens one to two days before symptoms appear, and two to three days afterward, the CDC said.

One employee of a retail shop on Corydon Avenue, whom the Free Press isn’t naming because they weren’t authorized to talk, figured the shortened isolation period is necessary for some businesses to stay open. Restaurants and retailers have been forced to shut their doors while staff quarantine at home.

"I’d love to work Monday to Friday from my living room on a laptop, but that’s not reality," the worker said. "If this store closes and we lose two weeks of wages, it poses a significant problem."

Manitoba is at a "tipping point" with cases soaring, the worker said.

"If you’re double-vaxxed, asymptomatic and have those negative (rapid) tests that they’re giving you, what more can I say? PCR tests take forever."

However, a negative COVID-19 test isn’t required for people who’ve tested positive to re-enter the public sphere, regardless of whether they’ve isolated five or 10 days.

"It’s concerning," said another retail worker, who also wasn’t authorized to talk. "(The isolation change) is also helpful, because most of the people that work in these kinds of industries live paycheque to paycheque, and they don’t have savings. If they’re not at work, they’re not paying their bills."

The Canadian Federation of Independent Business supports the change because it would address labour shortages after a "horrendous couple of years for small businesses," said Kathleen Cook, CFIB senior policy analyst for Manitoba.

"We’re in no way advocating for people to bring back sick, symptomatic staff," Cook said.

COVID-19 rapid tests showing negative results, after five days of quarantining from a positive test, would be beneficial for employers to bring staff back to work, Cook said.

"I think the province is going to need to look at increasing test capacity significantly to deal with this," she said.

Manitobans have reported waiting upwards of a week for PCR test results, and the province has been criticized for not circulating more rapid tests. It distributed about 500,000 tests last week, according to a government spokesperson.

"The province is looking at standing up a centralize(d) depot for distribution of kits and a mobile clinic for people who have trouble accessing testing," the spokesperson wrote in an email.

More information will be released in the days ahead, she wrote.

"If public health officials feel that this (quarantine change) is warranted and that it doesn’t present a risk to public health, we have no reason to question those with the information and the experience… in this area," said Loren Remillard, president and chief executive officer of the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce.

The move will help industries that are struggling to retain staff, he said.

Close contacts who aren’t exempt from self-isolation requirements must quarantine for 10 days.

gabrielle.piche@freepress.mb.ca

Gabrielle Piché

Gabrielle Piché
Reporter

Gabby is a big fan of people, writing and learning. She graduated from Red River College’s Creative Communications program in the spring of 2020.