In just eight days the number of Ontario health care workers infected with COVID-19 rose from 2,016 on April 27 to 2,892 on May 5. This is an increase of 876 infections, an alarming 43.5 per cent jump.
Today more than 3000 Ontario health care workers are infected with COVID-19. Those on the health care front lines now account for nearly 16 per cent of the province’s COVID cases. That is an infection rate four times that of China and 60 per cent higher than Italy, which sits at 10 per cent health care worker infections. However, Spain is still outpacing Ontario on reported COVID infections among health care staff.
“Staff on the COVID front-lines soldier on each day, fighting a war against a highly infectious virus with inadequate equipment, and not enough of it. Five have died, many are falling sick and many of these casualties are completely preventable,” said Michael Hurley President of the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions (OCHU), the hospital division the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE).
The research on COVID-19, said Hurley, shows the lack of protective gear like N95 masks that block aerosolized virus particles, Ontario’s recently watered-down safety protocols and the failure to do widespread testing are among the factors fueling COVID-19 infections among health care workers. “Four per cent of cases in China are health care workers. China uses airborne precautions for COVID-19. Compare that to 16 per cent of Ontario’s cases where contact/droplet precautions are used. Ontario’s unscientific approach to the virus and its rationing of equipment treat health care workers as cannon fodder. We ask for immediate action from the Premier.”
Across Ontario thousands of hospital and long-term care workers represented by CUPE held a forceful workplace protest on Wednesday, calling on the Premier to end the rationing of personal protective equipment (PPE) and to secure higher level N95 masks to better protect them. The union is calling for the GM plant in Oshawa to make the N95 mask, which GM produces at a plant in Michigan.
“So many of the front-line health staff who I’ve spoken with are scared. Frightened they will be infected at work. Doubly worried they will take the infection home to their families. They feel abandoned by this government and the province’s medical officer of health who seems immune to the surge in infections among health care workers. It’s an infection rate that may soon overtake Spain’s happening on his watch,” said CUPE Ontario secretary-treasurer Candace Rennick.
In long-term care where resident deaths and infections are soaring and where staffing levels are already low, PSWs, registered practical nurses and others on the frontlines are getting COVID in large numbers. Despite that, Rennick said upwards of 25 per cent health care workers who file a WSIB claim that they got COVID-19, are being denied benefits.
Ontario health care workers have a limited right to refuse unsafe work, said Rennick, and “every day that this mostly female labour force goes into work, they are at risk of getting COVID-19. To have their WSIB denied is just wrong on so many levels and this must change. The province must presume the COVID infection to be work-related and accept these claims.”