KAWARTHA LAKES-The Ontario Nurses’ Association (ONA) has filed an urgent judicial review application to seek changes to directives to recognize and protect against the grave risks to health-care workers from COVID-19 – including aerosol and asymptomatic transmission.
“The current public health directives from Ontario Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. David Williams, are not enough to protect against a novel respiratory virus like COVID-19,” says ONA President Vicki McKenna, RN. “Ontario’s directives do not respect the precautionary principle. Instead, the directives are based on outdated science.”
McKenna notes that the infection rates in health-care workers have soared throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Current directives only recognize that COVID-19 is spread through close contact and droplets, and ONA is asking that the Superior Court order Dr. David Williams to amend the directives to explicitly recognize aerosol and asymptomatic transmission.
“Other public health agencies have recognized aerosol transmission,” says McKenna, “but Ontario has yet to update its directives to reflect this. Our health-care workers can encounter patients who can be infectious, even before they show symptoms. We must adjust those directives – there is ample scientific evidence of both aerosol and asymptomatic transmission.
ONA notes that to date, the province has seen close to 19,000 health-care workers infected – a far higher incidence than the general population. There were 5,815 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in health care workers (HCW) reported in Ontario as of June 22, 2020.
- 81.0% are female, 18.7% are male.
- Nurses comprise the largest proportion of HCW cases with a specified occupation (22.0% of COVID-19 cases in health care workers overall and 70.4% of health case workers who specified type of occupation).
- 44.5% of HCW cases were not associated with an outbreak; of the outbreak-associated cases, 69.1% occurred in a long-term care home setting
- 13 deaths have been reported among health care workers for an overall case fatality of 0.2% (please note there may be a reporting delay for deaths in iPHIS).
According to Canadian Institute for Health Information, COVID-19 infections in Canadian health care workers have tripled since the end of July 2020, bringing the total number of reported cases to 65,920 (as of January 15, 2021).
“The failure of the Chief Medical Officer of Health to amend the directives, we believe, violates his legal duty under the Health Protection and Promotion Act,” says McKenna. “Orders must be consistent with the precautionary principle, which requires that health-care workers have access to airborne precautions, including N95 respirators, when dealing with known or uncertain risks of transmission.”
ONA is seeking changes to directives to require that health-care facilities provide N95 respirators and that health-care workers wear them to protect against infection in situations where there is a risk of exposure or in higher-risk health-care environments, including long-term care facilities, emergency departments, intensive care units, COVID units, COVID-19 testing sites, and other settings.
ONA is the union representing more than 68,000 registered nurses and health-care professionals, as well as more than 18,000 nursing student affiliates, providing care in hospitals, long-term care facilities, public health, the community, clinics and industry.