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EDITORIAL: COVID-19 and tough calls

Haggie
Newfoundland and Labrador Health Minister Dr. John Haggie is one of the decision-makers who will have to make tough calls about the province’s preparations for the arrival of and response to coronavirus. — Telegram file photo

It can’t be business as usual.

Because it’s not a business-as-usual illness.

Decisions will have to be made — and soon.

On Monday, the Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Public and Private Employees raised a timely issue about sick notes, saying the province should quickly amend the legislation that lets employers require a doctor’s note if an employee is sick for more than three days.

It’s not only NAPE that’s raised the issue, though. The province’s doctors have addressed the point, too.

“Employers should encourage their employees to stay at home when they are sick with self-limiting viral illnesses in order to prevent the spread of infections to other patients and their co-workers,” said Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Association president Dr. Charlene Fitzgerald in a news release issued Monday. “Asking sick employees to go to a doctor’s office or an emergency department for the sole purpose of obtaining a sick note is not a responsible use of health resources and is a public health risk.”

The provincial government has to be keenly aware that its decisions have a host of effects on everything from business confidence to the economics of a province that has already been affected by January’s state of emergency in the St. John’s metro area.

The problem, of course, is timing.

That’s because the time for making that decision is either right now or relatively soon, even though there haven’t been COVID-19 cases here yet.

Once COVID-19 virus has gotten a foothold in the province, it will be essentially too late to make the decision, and not only on sick notes. (The province temporarily lifted the three-day limit for employees of regional health boards on Tuesday.)

The provincial government has to be keenly aware that its decisions have a host of effects on everything from business confidence to the economics of a province that has already been affected by January’s state of emergency in the St. John’s metro area.

The best route is to make sure that those who are ill, even with mild cases, are self-isolated and not actively spreading the illness to coworkers or everyone surrounding them in a doctor’s office or clinic. The absolutely best route would be to ensure that sick workers don’t have to continue to go to work because they can’t get by economically without reporting to work.

Part of the overall equation has to do with community, not simply the natural selfish self-interest of protecting your own health.

It’s not really about how well you will do if you develop the virus; a critical part of the question is who else you will expose to the virus, and what the spreading effects may be on people in the community at large.

COVID-19 is bringing tough questions to the fore for politicians and health specialists — how much personal freedom to limit, and how and when they have to decide to make that move.

None of it is going to be easy.

Deciding about sick notes is probably the smallest, easiest and earliest issue the government will have to deal with.

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