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Medical personnel at the field hospital on the compound of the San Fernando General Hospital in May.

Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh is being asked to clarify concerns by a union that healthcare workers at the San Fernando General Hospital and San Fernando Teaching Hospital who are still COVID-19-positive after their quarantine ends, are being asked to report to work.

Asked to respond to the claim made by the Unified Health Sector Workers’ Union, the South West Regional Health Authority (SWRHA) neither confirmed nor denied it, stating only that they adhere to the Ministry of Health guidelines.

Rhea St John-Acosta, the union’s general secretary, said she has been receiving calls from concerned members.

She noted that one of them, a registered nurse assigned to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU), was in quarantine at home after testing positive. After completing 20 days of quarantine, the nurse still tested positive.

“She was told that she has to come out, go to OSH, they will clear her and she has to resume duty. When she told me that, I told her not to work because she cannot work if she is COVID-positive. I told her to call Infection Control and call the Occupational and Safety Unit. When she called Infection Control, she called me back and said that they told her that is the new protocol and she has to report for duty,” St John-Acosta said

St John-Acosta said on Tuesday, she spoke to a doctor at the SWRHA’s OSH Department, who told her that was the new protocol and that it is a universal protocol.

“He said you are only contagious two days before and up to 10 days after the test. When persons are quarantined, they are quarantined for 20 days, so that by the time they come back out, even if they test positive, they are no longer contagious and they have to report to duty. He said it is universal. I don’t know, I haven’t heard of that,” St John-Acosta said.

Lamenting that such a protocol made no sense, she said other workers would be very uncomfortable working with a colleague who is COVID-positive, while relatives would not want positive medical personnel attending to their loved ones, especially patients in ICU. She also noted a lot of staff on the wards have contracted the virus.

St John-Acosta has since advised her members who are being asked to return to work when they are still positive, to get those instructions in writing from the CEO to safeguard themselves.

She said, “If they still test positive it means the bacteria is still present. I don’t understand how they are determining that the person is not contagious,” she said.

Asking for clarification from the minister, she said if that is the case she would like to see supporting data.

“If you tell me this is universal, you tell me who said it, when they said it, who signed off on it, where it came from,” she said.

She said the ICU nurse’s husband is also COVID-19-positive and hospitalised and she also has a young child.

However, she said the nurse did not return to work because she still was not feeling well.