Health-care workers who test positive for COVID-19 will soon be required to isolate longer owing to a recent settlement between the Manitoba Nurses Union and Shared Health.

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Health-care workers who test positive for COVID-19 will soon be required to isolate longer owing to a recent settlement between the Manitoba Nurses Union and Shared Health.

Effective April 6, health-care workers in all Manitoba health regions who test positive for the virus must isolate for eight days, with day zero signifying the onset of symptoms or a positive test result. If a health-care worker is asymptomatic, the day they test positive must be considered day zero.

Health-care staff will be required to test negative on a rapid antigen test on day eight or nine to return to work.

“It’s unfortunate that the threat of arbitration was necessary in order to obtain measures that aligned with the standards set by the (U.S. Centers for Disease Control) for health–care facilities.” – Darlene Jackson

"We’re satisfied with the outcome of the grievance as it reflects the conclusion of the medical experts consulted," Darlene Jackson, president for the MNU said in a statement. "It’s unfortunate that the threat of arbitration was necessary in order to obtain measures that aligned with the standards set by the (U.S. Centers for Disease Control) for health-care facilities."

In early January, Shared Health announced a shorter isolation period in which fully vaccinated health-care workers who tested positive could return to work the day after a five-day isolation period, provided the individual had been without fever for 24 hours.

Across the province, facilities have been pushed to the limit to fill shifts as workers got sick and their colleagues worked overtime and double shifts.

On Thursday, a Shared Health spokesperson said Manitoba protocols relating to COVID-19 have closely aligned with changing data and evidence.

“That is why the CDC was clear that this should be implemented in an emergency staffing crisis only.” – Darlene Jackson

"Local experts in infection prevention and control and occupational health regularly review updated guidance from national and international bodies and make recommendations for local updates where appropriate," the spokesperson wrote in an email.

Jackson argued nurses were concerned about the risks associated with returning to work prematurely following a COVID infection.

"That is why the CDC was clear that this should be implemented in an emergency staffing crisis only," Jackson said.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention deemed a five-day isolation period, without a negative test, only appropriate where a critical staff shortage is present. The nurses union, which represents about 97 per cent of the province’s unionized nurses, argues Manitoba’s current staffing situation does not warrant abbreviated isolation periods.

On top of the hopes of reducing virus transmission in health settings, the nurses union believes this settlement will foster a healthier workplace for staff.

"The employer did not make that announcement or acknowledgement and therefore MNU was forced to act in the interest of patient and nurse safety," Jackson’s statement said.

The Shared Health spokesperson said the "return to work guidance for health-care workers has evolved over the course of the pandemic, balancing necessary preventative measures with efforts to maintain staffing levels for appropriate patient, resident and client care."

The CDC highlights the need for health-care professionals to follow different isolation periods than the public due to the nature of the work. The province lifted its mandatory self-isolation period for the public on March 15, along with all other public health measures.

On top of the hopes of reducing virus transmission in health settings, the nurses union believes this settlement will foster a healthier workplace for staff.

January’s abbreviated isolation rules included the condition that health-care workers who had just returned to work following isolation avoid taking breaks in common areas during days six through 10.

The nurses union argued this regulation forced workers to seek out alternative places to rest, eat and hydrate. The union stated that under these conditions a worker could find themselves unable to take a break if no such area existed.

Shared Health is working to implement the new return-to-work guidelines for health-care workers and will release more details with each health region in the upcoming days, a spokesperson said.

fpcity@freepress.mb.ca

Katlyn Streilein

Katlyn Streilein
Community Journalist

Katlyn Streilein is a reporter/photographer for the Free Press Community Review. She can be reached by phone at 204-697-7132 or by email at katlyn.streilein@canstarnews.com