Unions voice concern over province’s decision to lift mandatory isolation period
Telling workers they can work sick could lead to greater spread of the virus in workplaces, particularly warehouses, manufacturing and other congregate settings.
Two of Ontario’s major teachers’ unions voiced concerns on Sep. 1 about the province’s decision to scrap its mandatory isolation period for COVID-19 days before thousands of students and educators return to school in person.
The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario and the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation said they’re worried allowing children and educators to return to the classroom while still potentially contagious could cause the virus to spread faster in schools.
They said that could put people’s health at risk, and likely cause further disruptions to learning.
“We’re going to have students together in a class that is not necessarily lots of space we’re going to have kids in the cafeteria eating together,” said Karen Littlewood, OSSTF’s president.
Dr. Kieran Moore announced on Aug. 31 that people who test positive for COVID-19 no longer have to isolate for five days, but can return to work or school once their fever is gone and their other symptoms have been improving for at least 24 hours.
He said people should then wear a mask in all settings for 10 days after the onset of their symptoms, and stay away from high-risk environments such as long-term care homes during that time.
The doctor pointed to improvements such as better ventilation and environmental cleaning in schools, as well as more handwashing and immunization, saying those mean the province can now have a “more permissive approach.”
David Mastin, ETFO’s first vice-president, said the union is worried the change in guidance will lead to more of “the same kind of chaos” schools have endured over the last two years.
Unions outside of the education sector also expressed concern about the change Thursday.
Lana Payne, Unifor’s national president, said telling people to go back to work while still sick “contravenes common sense” and could lead to greater spread of the virus in workplaces, particularly warehouses, manufacturing and other congregate settings.
“Even if a worker has paid sick days, which many don’t, how do they tell their employer that they are using a sick day when the (chief) medical officer of health says they can work?” she said in a statement.
“The entire burden of the disease cannot rest on the shoulders of workers and the health-care system.”
Ontario currently offers workers three days of paid sick leave for COVID-19-related absences such as testing, vaccination, isolation or caring for relatives who are ill with the virus. The government recently extended that program to the end of March 2023.