According to the World Health Organization (WHO), a coronavirus belongs to a family of viruses causing illnesses ranging from the common cold to severe diseases, like severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) or Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS). A novel coronavirus is a strain previously unidentified in humans. Named COVID-19, this respiratory disease was first detected in late 2019 and has since spread throughout the world. On March 11, 2020, the WHO designated COVID-19 as a global pandemic.
For information on the symptoms and treatment of COVID-19, please refer to the website of the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) here.
A number of new COVID-19 variants of concern have recently been identified in Canada during 2021, leading to concerns about increased transmissibility, potentially worsened disease severity and resistance to existing vaccines. For detailed information on the variants, consult the CFNU’s factsheet “COVID-19 Variants of Concern and Canada’s Immunization Efforts” (PDF).
The COVID-19 vaccines offer much-needed protection against the continued spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. The approval process in Canada is safe and effective. The assessment of scientific and clinical evidence is done independently by Health Canada; this process is known to be stringent and provides assurance that the vaccine is safe for distribution to the public.
However, the global goal of reducing the spread of COVID-19 can only be achieved if sufficient numbers choose to be vaccinated. Canada’s nurses encourage everyone who does not have a medical exemption to get the vaccine when it is their turn. We encourage governments across Canada to accelerate the timeline for vaccine rollout and to work collaboratively and transparently, including with nurses unions, to implement a COVID-19 immunization strategy that ensures rapid and equitable distribution of the vaccine.
For more information, read the CFNU’s statement on COVID-19 vaccination here.
The number of health care workers in Canada infected with COVID-19 is rising daily. To learn more about the impact of COVID-19 on health care workers, please refer to the Canadian Institute for Health Information’s release COVID-19 cases and deaths in health care workers in Canada here: https://www.cihi.ca/en/covid-19-cases-and-deaths-in-health-care-workers-in-canada. To learn more about how health care workers fared during the first wave of COVID-19, and read recommendations for pandemic preparedness, access the independent report by Mario Possamai (commissioned by the CFNU), “A Time of Fear: How Canada failed our health care workers and mismanaged COVID-19”.
For the latest official numbers on infections among health care workers, please see Statistics Canada data https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/en/catalogue/13260003
For an up-to-date list of health care workers who are known to have died of COVID-19 in Canada, please visit the CFNU’s In Memoriam page here.
The CFNU is actively engaged with the federal government, Public Health Agency of Canada and public health offices across Canada to protect the health and safety of nurses, our patients and the public, and to address chronic issues affecting our health care system. We are strongly advocating for more robust infection prevention and control measures for health care workers; enhanced vaccination rollout and access; mental health supports for frontline workers; an overhaul of Canada’s troubled long-term care sector; and action to address the critical nursing shortage made urgent by the pandemic, among other topics.
To learn more about pandemic-related issues the CFNU is advancing, please consult the following position statements:
Given the emerging science with respect to COVID-19, it is the CFNU’s position that all nurses and frontline health care workers at risk in their area of work (based on an organizational infectious disease risk assessment) with the potential for exposure, and/or who are caring for a suspected or confirmed COVID-19 patient, should be provided, fitted for and have access to a NIOSH-approved N95 respirator or a higher level of protection (e.g., powered air-purifying respirator (PAPR)), and be trained, tested and drilled to safely don and doff it by the employer.
Point-of-care risk assessment is required to be completed by all health care workers for all interactions with patients/residents/clients.
Even in the event of supply issues, the point-of-care risk assessment (PCRA), an activity that is based on the individual nurses’ professional judgment (i.e., knowledge, skills, reasoning and education), must determine the protective equipment a nurse is provided, and if it is inadequate – given the patient acuity, environment or other factors – nurses must be provided access to a higher level of PPE regardless of the care/task being undertaken. Guidance must make it clear that a health care worker cannot be denied appropriate protection as required by the PCRA.
It is essential that airborne precautions and the use of fit-tested NIOSH-approved N95 respirators or preferably better (i.e. elastomeric respirators, powered air-purifying respirators (PAPRs)) be mandated at all times in clinical areas considered aerosol-generating medical procedures ‘hot spots’ (e.g.: intensive care units (ICU), emergency rooms, operating rooms, post-anaesthetic care units and trauma centers) that are managing COVID-19 patients. Where possible, AGMPs should take place in negative pressure rooms (or AIIR – airborne infection isolation rooms), or single-patient/resident rooms if an AIIR room is unavailable, and PAPRs should be used as respiratory protection for AGMP procedures.
Given the potential for non-AGMP aerosol spread of the virus, all workers caring for suspected or confirmed cases in designated COVID-19 units must be required to wear, minimally, fit-tested NIOSH-approved N95 respirators, if available, to prevent aerosol transmission of the virus. Head and foot protection, eye protection (i.e. full face shields or goggles), gloves, impermeable (or at least fluid-resistant) gowns must also be worn in these areas.
For more information on appropriate PPE for health care workers, please consult the CFNU’s position statement on COVID-19 here.
For more data on transmission and appropriate protections, please consult our research summary.
STOP if you do not have the required personal protective equipment or properly fitted respiratory protection, and/or have not been trained, drilled and tested in its care, use and limitations. Speak with your manager or supervisor, document the situation, and copy your union and Joint OH&S Committee representative.
REPORT any health and safety concerns, including gaps in adequate protocols and procedures and/or communications, access to PPE, fit-testing and/or training or other health and safety concerns to your manager or supervisor, copying your Joint OH&S Committee and your union.
If you are a health care worker concerned about workplace health and safety, please speak with your union or a member of your joint occupational health & safety committee. Otherwise, please fill out the contact form below.