COVID-19 Updates

October 20, 2020

ONA_HasYourBackPoster_20200408ONA_HeroesLookLikeThis_20200408ONA is closely monitoring this situation, and has initiated a special task force to monitor and respond to the threat of the coronavirus. We will provide information, and actions as the information unfolds. If you have any questions or concerns, please speak with your Bargaining Unit President.

ONA Members: Please send your COVID-19 questions to COVIDQuestions@ona.org.

We are posting any COVID-19 discounts and promotional offers for health-care workers to our main Discounts page. Click here to view.

Click here for a message from ONA President Vicki McKenna.

Bill 195 – the Reopening Ontario (A Flexible Response to COVID-19) Act, 2020

On July 7, 2020, the Solicitor General introduced Bill 195 – the Reopening Ontario (A Flexible Response to COVID-19) Act, 2020. ONA strongly opposes Bill 195 as a draconian, sweeping and unnecessary grant of power to employers to override collective agreement provisions and the grievance arbitration procedure. It permits the government to continue to maintain and modify emergency orders made under the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act for at least a year after the end of the declared emergency, and possibly longer. We will continue to provide updates as Bill 195 works through the legislative process and we will advise if public hearings are called. Click here to learn more.

Alert – Substitution of Technical Grade Ethanol in Hand Sanitizer

It has come to our attention that, due to supply issues, some manufacturers are substituting food grade ethanol with technical grade ethanol in some hand sanitizers.

Health Canada has issued a time limited approval to use technical grade ethanol while supply shortages of the higher-grade ethanol exist. However, because it contains toxicological properties including carcinogenicity, Health Canada has required that manufacturers notify all customers that technical grade ethanol is in the product and to label the containers with the following warnings: “Do not use on broken or damaged skin. Do not use if you are pregnant or breastfeeding. Do not inhale.”

Click here for the complete memo.

Redeployment to Long-Term Care

As a result of emergency orders issued, some health-care employers may redeploy staff to long-term care homes.

Below is a checklist designed to help you ensure that you are provided with the training, education, information, instruction and supervision required to keep you safe during your deployment. If, after completing this checklist, any of the boxes remain unticked immediately advise your supervisor and speak to your JHSC ONA representative and your Bargaining Unit President.

Health and Safety Checklist for Redeployment

Reusing Masks

We are aware that Ontario Health has advised employers to collect used N95 and surgical masks and to store these in biohazard bags for potential reprocessing. Given the global shortage of PPE, there is emerging evidence that says there maybe various methods of retaining, sterilizing, reprocessing and reusing PPE, including N95 respirators. Any health-care worker, who is placing an N95 into a container, for potential reuse, should be careful not to be contaminated. At this time, there is no certainty regarding scientific evidence that supports reusing N95 masks. We have advised government that, until there is clear evidence and science on safety, ONA will not consider these options without clear scientific evidence that these masks meet the standards for safe use in health-care settings.

Inappropriate Face Masks

We are aware that reusable face masks are being made with cotton fabric. These are being offered to nurses and health-care professionals. Please know that the effectiveness of these cotton face masks is unproven, and may put you further at risk. Our best advice is to respectfully decline the offer of these cotton face masks. We strongly advise you to continue to use only approved personal protective equipment. See guidance from Health Canada at this link.

Pandemic Pay

The Ontario government launched a new website on pandemic pay. Click here to learn more.

ONA Telephone Town Halls

Telephone Town Halls: Wednesday, October 7, 2020

ONA held telephone town halls for members on Wednesday, October 7 at two times, from 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. EST (for Regions 3 and 4) and from 7:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. EST (for Regions 1, 2 and 5). These town halls were held to discuss important updates regarding access to personal protective equipment.

Listen to the 5:30 p.m. session here. Listen to the 7:30 p.m. session here.

ONA News and Media

ONA in the News

  • ONA President Vicki McKenna says that the decision to allow front-line long-term care workers to present to the Long-Term Care COVID-19 Commission with anonymity is the right one (Toronto Star, October 27, 2020). “There’s a real fear of reprisal” when front-line workers speak out, she says. Recently, ONA presented to the commission and brought video testimony of three unidentified RNs who working in long-term care and were infected with COVID-19. McKenna says two of the RNs became so ill they were on ventilators, and “they talked about trying to care for people, trying to do the very best for them, seeing their health failing, people dying. They talked about fighting for personal protective equipment, fighting to cohort residents in disputes with their employer about moving residents who are ill away from residents who were not. They talked about the hours and the shifts they were working, multiple 12- and 18- and 24-hour shifts. And they got sick.” McKenna believes confidentiality should have been granted immediately when the commission was created, as was the case with the SARS commission almost 20 years ago.
  • The Toronto Star (October 25, 2020) reports that students won’t be likely to ever see the hundreds of public health nurses hired to manage COVID-19 outbreaks in schools. ONA President Vicki McKenna says that although many nurses “hoped that they would be right in the schools, and spending time going from school to school…in many cases the work they are doing is virtual.” Instead of being on the front lines in schools and classrooms, where many parents thought the nurses would be assisting students and staff, most nurses hired by public health units in the GTA spend much of their time contact-tracing, sometimes monitoring up to a dozen schools at a time. It’s unclear how many of the 625 nursing positions have been filled across the province, but in some jurisdictions, the hiring process is still underway. McKenna says it’s likely the hiring process will take some time, because public health nurses are specialized. “There aren’t so many public health nurses hanging around, who weren’t already employed somewhere,” she says. “A lot of public health nurses have been reassigned to the school programs. So a lot of the new hires are new graduates ... but they are coming in at that novice level and backfilling into programs that public health nurses have moved from.”
  • A letter to the editor of the Hamilton Spectator (October 27, 2020) from ONA President Vicki McKenna expresses concern that Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit intends to hire just four of the five additional school-based public health nurses (PHNs) it has been provided funding for. Just two of the positions have been filled, she writes, coming from the current complement of PHNs, which leaves other programs understaffed. HNHU has told the Ontario Nurses’ Association it is unable to fill the five positions due to a “budget discrepancy.” McKenna notes that since school began, school-based nurses have been working short-staffed. Ongoing workload issues continue for the PHNs, who have supported numerous COVID-19 outbreaks in long-term care, local farms and in the community, and they have been working seven days a week. McKenna writes that this “community deserves better. The priority should be student safety, not budget savings at a time when provincial COVID-19 infection rates are increasing at alarming rates.”
  • Front-line workers in health care are facing new challenges due to new rules and regulations during the COVID-19 pandemic (Global News, October 18, 2020). In addition to new PPE rules, front-line workers say they are also dealing with growing tension and in some cases violent acts from patients and visitors. “The biggest new flashpoint is people not being allowed access to their loved ones when they are in a healthcare institution,” Elyse Sunshine, a health and regulatory lawyer who works with nurses, doctors and other health-care workers, says. Before the pandemic, nurses were already dealing with high levels of aggression from patients and visitors. ONA Bargaining Unit President, Donna MacInnis, says her members at Windsor Regional Hospital are constantly having to fight for their safety. Ontario’s Ministry of Labour reported the Southlake Regional Health Centre in Newmarket pleaded guilty to two violations of the Occupational Health and Safety Act.
  • The Toronto Star (October 6, 2020) reports that while advocates have been calling for pay equity in long-term care homes for years, the provincial government is again appealing a legal decision that sided against it. ONA President Vicki McKenna notes that nurses in long-term-care homes are predominantly women – 90 per cent. That means there are often far fewer male staff to compare with internally, and what male staff exist, aren't in care-providing roles. Pay equity maintenance necessitates the proxy method. Ontario is arguing to instead uphold the Tribunal decision which did not require achieving pay equity through proxy calculations. The report says that during the COVID-19 pandemic, long-term-care homes have been a vulnerable battle site for outbreaks in the province. McKenna says part of the staffing shortage issue is "the working conditions and the benefits and the compensation of employees that work there.''
  • ONA President Vicki McKenna says it’s “unacceptable” for Southlake Regional Health Centre to layoff dozens of RNs during a pandemic, especially when the hospital already has serious staffing issues (Huffington Post, September 23, 2020). McKenna says Southlake nurses have warned they are spread thin, and some are considering leaving because of the workload and stress. Toronto Rehab and Lakeridge Health have also announced cuts to RN positions. McKenna says the research is clear that RN care makes a “tremendous difference” for patients’ wellbeing and care.
  • Ontario could face another crisis in long-term care homes, as nurses and personal support workers leave their jobs due to financial constraints (CityNews, September 22, 2020). The Services Employees International Union Healthcare (SEIU) says nearly 30 per cent, or 7,500 of the nurses and personal support workers, that they represent have already left their jobs or plan to. SEIU says the government’s decision to limit staff from working at multiple facilities during the pandemic put a financial burden on thousands of workers. ONA says the government’s emergency order exposed gaps in long-term care that existed long before the pandemic. “We had a shortage of staff in long-term care before COVID, and I’m very worried about what the picture is if we don’t do something to help these people so they can stay working in the long term care sector,” says ONA President Vicki McKenna. “Single employer is the right way to go, but what we had discussions with government about was if they were going to institute the single employer, that somehow they need to offset the economic loss that employees would experience because of that.”

Government Information and Resources

For the latest information, visit the Ontario government's COVID-19 webpage.

Visit the Ministry of Health's COVID-19 guidance page for the health sector. Click here to view these guidance documents in French.

MOH Coronavirus Situation Reports:

October 29, 2020: MOH Coronavirus Situation Report #278

Click here to view previous MOH Coronavirus Situation Reports.

COVID-19 Command Table Updates:

Click here to view all Provincial Command Table Memorandums.

COVID-19 Collaboration Table Summaries:

April 2, 2020: Update on COVID-19 Preparations and Actions

March 19, 2020: Update on COVID-19 Preparations and Actions

Recent Government Communications

Click here for a complete list of government memos and communications.

Government Resources

  • The link below is produced and monitored by HealthForceOntario to recruit health-care professionals during the COVID-19 pandemic "who may be working part-time and want to and are prepared to increase their work hours or former healthcare providers who are retired, or on inactive status with their regulatory college; and are prepared to return to employment." Note that ONA does not endorse nurses and health-care professionals working in more than one health-care facility during a pandemic. This is also advice recommended by Ontario's Chief Medical Officer of Health. http://www.healthforceontario.ca/en/M4/COVID19

News and Resources for Health-Care Professionals

  • National Nurses United created an online memorial to honour nurses around the world who have died during the COVID-19 crisis.
  • Click here for an update from the Healthcare of Ontario Pension Plan (HOOPP) in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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