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COVID-19: Questions and answers for employers

By Medisys on March 30 2020 | COVID-19 (Coronavirus)

What should we do if an employee tests positive for COVID-19?

If an employee is suspected to have COVID-19 while at the office (symptoms such as fever, cough, and difficulty breathing), the TELUS Medical Advisory Council’s current recommendation is to give them a surgical mask if available, isolate them in a room, and have them call their healthcare provider for further instructions. They should stay isolated until safe transportation arrangements (not public transportation) are made for them to get home or to a hospital depending on severity and medical advice. When at home, they should generally continue to self-isolate for 14 days if their symptoms are compatible with COVID-19, or as instructed by their healthcare provider.

Should one of your employees be suspected of having COVID-19 while outside the office, the employee and their close contacts should be advised to self-isolate for 14 days and monitor their symptoms. Employers should support these individuals in self-isolation and working from home. If close contacts experience any COVID-19 symptoms, they should call their healthcare professional.


Should we cancel our upcoming conferences?

Yes; at this time and for the near future, public health officials are recommending practicing physical distancing to slow the spread of COVID-19. Physical distancing involves actively minimizing close contact with others in the community. For organizations, a part of physical distancing includes suspending any large in-person gatherings. Meetings that can be held virtually should be, anyone who can work from home should do so.


Should we prohibit travel to certain locations?

As per the government’s recommendations and travel advisories, all non-essential travel outside the country should be avoided.

Public health officials are recommending that people returning to Canada from abroad self-isolate for 14 days and call their healthcare provider if they develop any COVID-19 symptoms.

Self-isolation means staying at home and avoiding contact with others to help prevent the spread of the virus.

More information here.


Should we encourage working from home?

Absolutely. In the context of a pandemic, it is important that organizations encourage and support their employees to work from home. In the current situation, organizations should emphasize that a team player is one who works from home to reduce risk of exposure and spread.


What are the degrees of separation? If an employee may have come into contact with someone who may have come into contact with someone who was diagnosed, should they stay home?

Generally, public health will advise first-degree contacts of those who swab test positive for COVID-19 to self-isolate for a 14-day period. Unless advised by public health, it is not necessary for second-degree contacts to self-isolate, e.g. a friend of a friend. Second degree contacts may be advised to practice physical distancing, monitor for symptoms, and contact their healthcare provider if they develop any symptoms.

In the absence of a swab test, people who have had close contact with someone with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 should also self-isolate for 14 days and contact their healthcare provider if they develop any symptoms.


What should we do if a case is confirmed in our office building but outside our employee group?

Ensure you maintain an open line of communication with your Property Manager / landlord to have a clear understanding of the measures and plans they have in place should a case be confirmed.


Employees are experiencing intermittent sick days with cold symptoms. Should we be advising these employees to stay home for 14 days even if they are feeling better?

Yes. In a time of physical distancing, employees should be working from home as much as possible in the first place. If that’s not possible and they have to go to work, they should self-isolate for 14 days if they experience any flu-like symptoms, as those are similar to the COVID-19 symptoms.


What if someone in the employee’s household is experiencing symptoms but the employee feels fine? Should they self-isolate for 14 days?

In case of contact with the regular cold or flu, employees should self-monitor for 14 days in case symptoms develop and increase their personal space from others whenever possible. If symptoms do develop, employees should self-isolate immediately.



How can we support an employee who is afraid to come to work because of COVID, but whose role cannot be done remotely (i.e. heavy equipment operators)? 

In cases where employees cannot work from home, it is important to remind them to practice physical distancing as much as possible at all times. For example, they should avoid public transit if possible, practice physical distancing both at work and outside of work, and keep up safe hygiene practices like washing their hands often for at least 20 seconds. They should also keep monitoring their health for any symptoms that could come up.

It is also hugely important to ensure there are proper mental health supports in place for workers, and to emphasize the ability to have social connections virtually. It could also be helpful to set up a resource centre for employees who need access to answers about COVID-19.



What pre-existing medical conditions make a person more susceptible to developing complications if you test positive for COVID-19?  

The following people are at higher risk from suffering from complications of COVID-19:

  • Older adults (defined as age 60+) and in particular, those with pre-existing medical conditions including the ones listed below.
  • Women in third trimester of pregnancy
  • Those with underlying medical conditions such as:
    • Diabetes
    • Heart disease
    • Active cancer
    • History of stroke
    • Asthma
    • COPD
    • A condition requiring dialysis
    • Immunosuppression

OR as defined by their personal healthcare professional OR close caregivers (e.g. live with them) for any of above



Are there any medications that can cause complications and therefore should be stopped or not taken if you test positive for COVID-19? 

There are some reports of links between Advil / ibuprofen and more severe infection, but there are no clear answers yet. Please speak with your personal healthcare provider to review any concerns, and before discontinuing any chronic medications.



The incubation period has been maintained at 14 days. Is this for everyone, mostly everyone, or can the disease be in incubation beyond 14 days?

COVID’s incubation period is currently understood to be 5-6 days, with symptoms usually appearing within 2-14 days.



People working in the hospital are considered to be more at risk of getting infected. What extra precautions, if any, should their family members take to limit the exposure risks?   

In case of close contact with someone who has increased risk of exposure, individuals should be especially vigilant about practicing safe hygiene measures, cleaning shared surfaces often, and practicing social distancing.

In the case of healthcare workers, please follow instructions from the hospital. Wash clothes regularly in warm water, and consider having “work clothes” that are taken off in a dedicated area of the house before washing your hands and changing into “house clothes.”



What is the recovery period for someone who has been tested as a positive?

Someone who has tested positive needs to self-isolate for at least 14 days and until the symptoms resolve. Additionally, individuals should always connect with a healthcare providers in case of concerns.



What precautions can someone take during the COVID-19 outbreak if they are visiting a clinic or hospital for other medical reasons, especially as clinics may not have masks?    

At this time, all clinic and hospital visits should be avoided as much as possible; if available, virtual care (either via a mobile app or simply a phone or video call with your doctor) is the preferred option.



Does COVID-19 spread easily through contact with infected surfaces just as easily as human-human transmission?            

Precautions need to be taken against both droplets and contact transmission. It is probable that direct contact is more likely to transmit the disease, but contact with infected surfaces may account for more transmissions numbers-wise as COVID can last several days on surfaces.



Would you recommend that workers who are scheduled to have a follow-up appointments (non-urgent) for a WCB claim go to their physician's appointment or cancel until a later date?          

It's a good idea generally to suspend non-essential services (including medical services) to a later date. Check with your personal healthcare provider to determine if your visit can be delayed safely or done virtually.



Is this disease airborne? Can the virus spread thru common ventilation systems like in condos or apartment buildings?      

COVID-19 is spread by droplet and contact, which means coughs, sneezes, etc. within a  2-metre range, as well as through touching infected surfaces and then touching our mucous membranes.



Can we use Akira now even though we are not part of it? Due to the current situation, it might be the only tool we could have now.    

Akira is available through employer or student benefits plans. That said, we also have a self-screening tool built specifically for COVID-19, which is available to all Canadians. It can be accessed here: https://covid19.akirahealth.ca/



A number of our employees have expressed interest in getting face masks, but the masks are not available at present. Are there options for using improvised masks?      

We would not recommend masks for the general public, as they are really more useful for people who are expecting to be in very close contact with sick people (e.g. healthcare professionals). Masks should also be worn by people who are sick and needs to go to the hospital as a way to keep germs away from others.



Is there a recommended diet that we can share with our employees?           

While there is no diet in particular to recommend, we always recommend maintaining a balanced diet that includes a variety of fresh foods and nutrients, especially as our routines change and most of us are likely less active than we usually are. It is also important to stay hydrated throughout the day. Our Medisys newsletter also includes recipes to help you come up with new meal ideas. Click here to subscribe to our free newsletter or here to download our recipe booklet.



New stats seem to indicate that younger populations (under 65) are getting more severe illness?  Is this true?         

Most people will have mild to moderate symptoms. Older adults and people with certain medical conditions are more likely to get more serious infection (see above), but anyone can have a serious infection generally. So while it is less likely for people under 65, it is still possible.




Do you have a sample mental health strategy that you would be able to share?      

Please refer to some of our blog articles and webinar slides for some strategies and approaches around mental health support in the context of self-isolation and social distancing. You can also join our 30-day mental health challenge for daily tips and strategies.



How should people be cleaning their produce from the grocery? Fruits and vegetables that have been handled by others?  Is there a risk?    

All produce should be washed thoroughly before eating and can be washed with soap and water as an added precaution. Also remember to wash your hands before preparing meals and before eating, and try to buy produce that can be peeled.



With the pandemic, health professionals are tied up. How is Akira responding or staffing up?           

We have been actively recruiting clinicians across the country through various channels and are in the process of onboarding a number of RNs and NPs onto the platform. We are also onboarding a number of Medisys clinicians to help support Canadians during this time.



Public Health Contact Information re: COVID-19:

Alberta: 811
Ontario: 1-866-797-0000
British Columbia: 811
Saskatchewan: 811
Manitoba: 1-888-315-9257
Quebec: 1-877-644-4545
PEI: 811
Newfoundland: 1-888-709-2929
Nova Scotia: 811
New Brunswick: 811
Nunavut: 1-867-975-5772