BY PAMELA FAYERMAN
Cases of COVID-19 among B.C. healthcare workers have risen about 80% in the past three months.
Data provided by the B.C. government shows that as of Nov. 4, when there were a cumulative 16,135 lab-confirmed cases in B.C., the number of infections among healthcare workers was 1,442. Three months ago, the figure was 822.
The proportion of cases among healthcare workers represents at least 8.9% of the more than 16,000 lab-confirmed cases in the province since the pandemic began. (A few thousand individuals were either not asked or refused to answer questions about their occupation when they were tested).
The 8.9% proportion is lower than the early days of the pandemic when healthcare workers accounted for about 25% of all cases, but that could have been a misleading proportion since healthcare workers had unfettered access to testing while the general public did not.
Nevertheless, nurses are still the hardest hit – at least 325 have been infected since the pandemic began. That includes registered nurses and licensed practical nurses. Grouped together, the two nursing categories account for about 23% of cases while care aides, who generally work in long term care facilities, account for 18.2% of infections. In that category, there have been 262 infections, more than double the number three months ago.
Christine Sorensen, president of the B.C. Nurses Union, said the union “is very concerned that there’s been a significant jump in the number of nurses, and all health care workers, who have contracted COVID-19.
“As we navigate the second wave in B.C., we strongly believe that nurses must have unfettered access to personal protective equipment. The government continues to report large quantities of PPE has been procured over the last several months, so it is our expectation that it is made available to nurses, at worksites across the province, when they need it.”
Sorensen said the union continues to hear from nurses around the province who complain about shortages of PPE “and we expect the supply to meet the immediate demand.”
As the chart above shows, there have been 84 cases among dental professionals, a small increase since August when there were 77 cases.
Physicians account for 4.4% of cases. In the latest dataset, there are 64 cases compared to 41 three months ago. Cases amongst physicians accounted for just 5% of cases three months ago and now they represent 4.4%.
The government has been criticized for not providing better, more specific data. A category called “other” shows a whopping 382 cases, representing the single biggest proportion. But it is a grab bag of healthcare workers, including pharmacists. Healthcare workers can refuse to describe their positions when they are tested and that was the case with 95 individuals who refused to divulge their position when they got tested.
What is perhaps surprising is the low number of cases among housekeepers (45); lab technicians (20); and paramedics (16).
Dr. Bonnie Henry, B.C.’s provincial health officer, was on the defensive today when the government of B.C. was accused by the Public Health Agency of Canada of not sharing data on the occupational status of those who test positive.
There have been growing concerns by Henry and others in the provincial government that people will assume all the infections among healthcare workers were acquired in the workplace when in fact, it is often impossible to prove where infections were acquired.