Island Health sent a letter to employees reminding them of updated COVID testing policies for health care workers, which says it is not recommended to test themselves for COVID if experiencing respiratory symptoms.
The letter, signed by Dr. Ben Williams, vice-president of quality, research & Chief Medical Executive and Dr. Reka Gustafson, vice-president of population and public health & Chief Medical Health Officer, points to the provincial policy where testing for COVID is only recommended under specific circumstances.
“…[I]t is important to remember that the majority health care workers with respiratory symptoms do NOT need to test for COVID-19, and can return to work when their fever is resolved and they feel well enough to work,” the letter says.
“Staff who do test positive for COVID-19 may be able to return to work before five days if their fever is resolved, they feel well enough to work and their manager or medical staff leader has determined they are required for safe operation of the service.”
According to the BCCDC, testing for COVID is only recommended if a person is at risk for more severe illness and may benefit from treatment, if the person is hospitalized, or if they are pregnant. The letter says testing for health care workers is also only recommended under these circumstances.
CHEK News reached out to Island Health for an interview but was told no one would be available over the weekend to do an interview.
“This is not a new policy,” an Island Health spokesperson said in an email. “As it says, it clarifies how to apply the provincial policies, which are still in place.”
Monday afternoon, the Ministry of Health said in a statement to CHEK News that testing for COVID is recommended if it will inform a person’s care or treatment.
“This means testing is recommended for symptomatic health-care workers when clinically indicated,” the ministry said in a statement.
“Apart from testing, it’s important to continue to take measures to help limit the spread of respiratory illnesses such as staying at home if you feel unwell and getting all recommended vaccinations given the co-circulation of other respiratory viruses apart from SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19).”
Dr. Sanjiv Gandhi, former head of pediatric cardiac surgery at BC Children’s Hospital and deputy leader of the BC Greens, says he finds this update “mind boggling” and that it downplays the risk of the virus.
“Not knowing someone is infected with COVID simply feeds into the philosophy that ignorance is bliss and if there’s one thing we’ve learned over the past several years, ignorance is not bliss, it’s ignorance is perhaps the greatest barrier that we have to societal health,” Gandhi said in an interview with CHEK News.
“The dismissal of testing, de facto categorizes COVID as just another respiratory virus, and we know that’s not true. SARS-CoV-2 is a vascular virus and we know that repeated infections, predisposes people to potential ramifications that affect many organ systems as time goes on.”
Mask mandates in health care settings remain in place, which Gandhi supports, but he says it’s not enough to prevent the spread of COVID in these situations.
“It all depends on a lot of other things like the quality of the mask, the quality of the air, which is very important, who’s wearing the mask, how they’re wearing it,” Gandhi said. “You can’t just ignore getting COVID infections, and not testing people and then just assuming that a simple mask sometimes worn properly, without adequately assessing air quality is enough to mitigate spread of this disease.”
In December, the World Health Organization released advice on how to reduce the risk of spreading COVID, where it recommends testing for everyone who feels unwell or has respiratory symptoms, is at high risk of severe illness and has been exposed to someone with COVID, or if you plan to visit someone at high risk of severe illness.
This story was updated to include a statement from the Ministry of Health.