Wed | Dec 8, 2021

Garth Rattray | Untenable COVID-19 workplace policies

Published:Monday | March 29, 2021 | 12:09 AM

When it comes to COVID-19, if it’s not one thing, it’s the other. Workplaces and bosses are inventing their own COVID-19 protocols. Some workplaces, even government-regulated ones, insist on holding retreats at hotels in spite of our problems with COVID-19. I had a patient who risked her job because she refused to join her workmates at a hotel retreat that booked them two per room! I reported it to the appropriate authority and was told that no permission was ever sought for the event. However, I know for a fact that the retreat went on anyway and they even had a second retreat some months later.

A recent phenomenon is emerging wherein bosses, with only Dem-ah-seh, WhatsApp and YouTube ‘medical degrees’, are taking it upon themselves to determine what post-COVID-19 back-to-work protocols are to be followed. I saw a suspected case of COVID-19 and sent him home on medication with instructions to isolate for 14 days. His PCR confirmed my suspicion, and thankfully, he had a mild course. He became symptom-free and after the isolation period ended, he was allowed to return to work with a letter. However, his employers had him do a second PCR test, which came back positive.

He emailed me for guidance in going forward and wanted to know if he should quarantine for another 14 days. The protocol does not require any follow-up PCR testing. It used to require two negative PCR tests but it was discovered that the PCR may detect harmless viral fragments, even when the patient’s immune system already cleared the infection. Patients used to suffer severe and unnecessary financial losses, and emotional anguish, having to wait for many weeks in isolation/quarantine and perform repeat PCR tests until two consecutive samples were negative. Some even threatened suicide when confined and fretting that they still had the COVID-19 infection.

Since about the middle of 2020, it was determined that all that is required is a total of 14 days quarantine/isolation. It takes about 10 days for our immune system to clear the virus. The isolation/quarantine count starts at the beginning of symptoms, or at the date of the last exposure (if asymptomatic) … the 14 days must conclude with three consecutive days of no symptoms attributable in any way whatsoever to COVID-19 infection. Moderate and severe cases require three weeks of isolation/quarantine.

This is a CDC quote, “Recovered patients can continue to have SARS-CoV-2 RNA detected in their upper respiratory specimens for up to 12 weeks after symptom onset. Investigation of 285 ‘persistently positive’ adults, which included 126 adults who had developed recurrent symptoms, found no secondary infections among 790 contacts to these case patients. Efforts to isolate replication-competent virus from 108 of these 285 case patients were unsuccessful.”

Obviously, I was quite miffed at that patient’s employers; they usurped the medical protocol based on the scientific knowledge that we use to manage patients. Since my directive was worthless, I provided the patient with several phone numbers and email contacts for the Ministry of Health and Wellness for him to forward to his employers.

REFUSING OPPORTUNITY TO WORK FROM HOME

Other workplaces are refusing to allow employees, with significant comorbidities, the opportunity to work from home. One particular tertiary- level (management) lecturer has a potentially serious comorbidity and takes care of a 90-odd-year-old mother. Yet, that well-known workplace flatly ignored repeated medical letters to allow their at-risk employee to lecture via the Internet until things normalise. It’s only now, since the prime minister’s directive, that they grudgingly relented.

What adds insult to injury is that many work environments do not adequately enforce COVID-19 safety measures. I am tired of speaking with gas station pump attendants about their masks and my complaints to management are ignored. In many business places, the staff behave as if they are with their immediate family, in their living rooms at home. They either have no masks on or wear them under their chins or noses. Yet their bosses have the temerity to ignore medical procedures and insist on dictating the conditions under which they return to work when they become infected!

Garth A. Rattray is a medical doctor with a family practice. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and garthrattray@gmail.com.