COVID-19 Frequently Asked Questions for United Nurses of Alberta members

Updated: March 2, 2021

Disclaimer: Because COVID-19 is evolving by the minute, we cannot guarantee that everything referenced on this page is up to date. We will strive to review and update daily including adding additional questions and answers.

General

1. Where can I access more information on COVID-19?

Personal Protective Equipment

2. What are the PPE requirements when caring for suspected, presumed, or confirmed COVID-19 cases?

  • On March 2, 2021, Alberta Health Services (AHS), the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE), Covenant Health (CH), the Health Sciences Association of Alberta (HSAA), and United Nurses of Alberta (UNA) released an updated joint statement on the safe and effective use of personal protective equipment (PPE) during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • The updated joint agreement provides further clarity and empowers health care workers to make decisions on the appropriate PPE based on risk assessments. This means all health care workers will have access to N95 respirators or equivalents, if they determine it is required based on their Point of Care Risk Assessment (PCRA), even in situations that do not involve aerosol generating medical procedures.
  • At a minimum, Contact and Droplet precautions are still required when dealing with suspected or confirmed COVID patients (gown, gloves, face shield and procedure mask), with procedure masks being replaced by fit-tested N95 respirators if determined appropriate by the health care worker’s PCRA.
  • Fit-tested and seal-checked N95 respirators or approved equivalent protection must be used by all health care workers in the room where AGMPs are being performed, or when frequent or unexpected exposure to AGMPs is anticipated, or with any intubated patients suspected or confirmed to have a viral respiratory infection.
  • Link to PPE Joint Statement: https://www.una.ca/files/uploads/2021/3/ne-nr-2020-03-27-joint-statement-covid-ppe.pdf
  • Link to PPE Joint Statement Supporting Guide: https://www.una.ca/files/uploads/2021/3/if-ppih-covid-19-joint-ppe-statement-supporting-guide.pdf

3. What has changed in the new Joint Statement on PPE?

Several key changes in the updated statement are of particular concern to UNA members. These include:

  • Recognition of the evolving evidence on transmission and the precautionary principle
    • This section incorporates and balances a number of perspectives including the precautionary principle and acknowledgement of new Infection, Prevention, & Control guidance and evolving evidence on transmission from the Public Health Agency of Canada.
  • No health care worker will be required to work with PPE contrary to their PCRA
    • These changes add clarity and emphasis that all health care workers, across the care continuum and in all clinical settings, who are within two metres of suspected, presumed, or confirmed COVID-19 patients shall have access to the PPE they request, including fit-tested N95 respirators, based on their Point of Care Risk Assessment (PCRA) and this will not be unreasonably denied by the employer.
    • No health care worker will be required to work with PPE contrary to their PCRA nor will they be redeployed if there is a dispute.
    • A process has been established in the Joint Statement Supporting Guide for staff and leaders to handle the extremely rare event of a dispute. This includes an expedited dispute resolution process that UNA’s Provincial OHS Advisor can access.
  • Substitution of a procedure mask for an N95
    • At a minimum, contact and droplet precautions are still required when dealing with suspected or confirmed COVID patients, but health care workers may now replace their procedure mask with a fit-tested N95 respirator based on their PCRA, even in situations that do not involve aerosol generating medical procedures.
  • Supporting Guide for staff and leaders
    • A Supporting Guide for frontline leaders and staff was developed to provide further guidance on the intent of the joint statement and how it should be interpreted and applied.

4. Does the new Joint Statement on PPE mean that every health care workers gets or should use an N95 mask with every suspected, probable, or confirmed COVID-19 positive patient?

  • The updated joint agreement provides further clarity and empowers health care workers to make decisions on the appropriate PPE based on their PCRA. This means all health care workers will have access to an N95 respirator or equivalent, if they determine it is required based on their PCRA.
  • No health care worker will be required to work with PPE contrary to their PCRA nor will they be redeployed if there is a dispute.

5. What do I if I am being denied access to PPE, including N95 respirators, despite making a reasonable determination based on my PCRA?

  • Discuss your concern with your immediate Supervisor/Manager to try and get resolution.
  • Refer to the Joint PPE Statement Supporting Guide, which outlines what to do if there is a dispute about the PCRA. Both parties should follow these steps.
  • It is important to note that the Supporting Guide states that “while this discussion is occurring, the requested PPE should be provided.”
  • If you are unable to get resolution to your concern at a Local level or if the concern is urgent, reach out to UNA’s OHS Advisor at Phone: 1‑866‑492‑8584; Email: ProvincialOffice@una.ca
  • Link to PPE Joint Statement Supporting Guide: https://www.una.ca/files/uploads/2021/3/if-ppih-covid-19-joint-ppe-statement-supporting-guide.pdf

6. What is a Point of Care Risk Assessment (PCRA)?

  • A Point of Care Risk Assessment (PCRA) is your first step in routine practices and is to be used with all patients for all care and all interactions. It involves assessing the patient, the activity, and the environment prior to each patient interaction. This assessment will help you decide what, if any, PPE you need to wear to protect and to prevent the spread of germs.
  • See the attached AHS PCRA poster: https://www.albertahealthservices.ca/ipc/hi-ipc-routine-practices-algorithim-cc.pdf
  • Examples:
    • Patient: You assess that the COVID-19 positive patient is coughing and sneezing excessively with copious amounts of respiratory secretions. You have to provide direct care and you consider replacing your surgical mask with a N95 respirator.

    • Activity: You assess that AGMPs will be performed, frequent, or are probable (e.g. the patient’s condition is unstable or deteriorating) for the COVID positive patient you are caring for and you don a N95 respirator.

    • Environment: You are asked to provide care to a COVID positive patient or group of patients in a non-traditional care area and you consider replacing your surgical/procedure mask with a N95 respirator.

7. What are the PPE recommendations for contact and droplet precautions?

8. What are the PPE recommendations for screening patients/staff/visitors entering facilities or clinics?

9. What are the PPE recommendations for Assessment Centres and ERs/Urgent Care Centres?

10. What should I do if I can’t access or I am being denied using PPE?

  • Have a discussion with your immediate supervisor/manager outlining your concerns.
  • The agreed upon Joint Statement on PPE with AHS and Covenant Health states the following:
    • If a health care worker determines on reasonable grounds that specific PPE is required, they shall have access to the appropriate PPE based on their PCRA, and this will not be unreasonably denied by their employer, or they shall be deployed to another area.
  • If the Manager denies your request for PPE and is not willing to deploy you to another area and you are still unable to access or are denied using PPE that you have requested, we encourage you to consider exercising your right to refuse dangerous work.
  • There are certain obligations you must meet to exercise this right, which can be reviewed here: https://www.alberta.ca/refuse-dangerous-work.aspx#toc-1
  • UNA will support any member that chooses to exercise their right to refuse dangerous work.
  • Please contact your Local or UNA Provincial Office (Phone: 1‑800‑252‑9394; Email: ProvincialOffice@una.ca) for questions or support.

11. I need to be N95 fit tested, what do I do?

  • Contact a Workplace/Occupational Health and Safety Advisor with your Employer. If you are unsure how to do that – reach out to your immediate Supervisor and/or contact your Local.
  • Please contact your Local or UNA Provincial Office (Phone: 1‑800‑252‑9394; Email: ProvincialOffice@una.ca) for questions or support.

Self-Isolation, Testing for COVID-19 and Return to Work

12. What do I do if I am having symptoms or think I have been exposed to COVID-19? How do I get tested for COVID-19?

  • If you are experiencing symptoms (fever, sore throat, cough, runny nose, shortness of breath), stay home and self-isolate – do not go to an ER or clinic.
  • If you need immediate medical attention, call 911 and inform them you may have COVID-19.
  • Take the online Healthcare Worker Self-Assessment tool to determine next steps and find out if you require testing: https://myhealth.alberta.ca/Journey/COVID-19/Pages/HWAssessLanding.aspx
    • This tool can be used by all front-line health care workers, regardless of their Employer.

13. What do I do if I think I may have contracted COVID-19 at work?

  • Contact your Employer Workplace/Occupational Health and Safety Department immediately for further guidance. AHS WHS: 1-855-450-3619 Covenant Health OHS: 1-855-342-8070 or 780-342-8070 (Edmonton Area).
  • If you are symptomatic, you should also make a WCB claim.
  • WCB Worker Fact Sheet: https://www.wcb.ab.ca/assets/pdfs/workers/WFS_COVID-19.pdf
  • Note that casuals are entitled to WCB since pay is based on normal hours of work, not FTE. However, it’s worth noting that Article 20 does not apply to casual employees, so the employee would be paid by WCB directly and not through the employer.

14. What do I do if I am waiting for a return call from Health Link 811 or WHS?

15. Does WHS or Public Health have to clear me to return to work? How do I know when to return to work?

16. Do I qualify for the AHS Expedited Return to Work?

  • Expedited returns to work will only be considered in exceptional circumstances (i.e. to address critical staffing needs), for asymptomatic Employees who are self-isolating, and must be discussed with your leader and approved by Zone Emergency Operations Centres (ZEOC).
  • The request is initiated by a manager, and not by staff themselves, and requires a completed Return to Work Approval form, which must be approved by the ZEOC.
  • If your Manager has obtained approval for you through the expedited return to work process, we would advise that you request a copy of the approved RTW form.

17. What do I do if my Manager is asking me to come back to work, but I have not finished my self-isolation period or I still have symptoms?

  • If you are symptomatic, you cannot return to work under any circumstances.
  • If you are required to self-isolate but are asymptomatic, you can only return to work early if your Manager has obtained approval through the Expedited Return to Work process (see question #14).
  • If your Manager is asking you to come back to work that contradicts any of these guidelines, please email UNA’s OHS Advisor, Dewey Funk (dewey.funk@una.ca) with your name, manager’s name making the request, location, and unit and Dewey will forward to the Zone WHS Director for follow up

Time Coding and Sick Leave 

18. How should my time be coded if I am off of work related to COVID-19?

On January 18, 2021, UNA signed an important Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) with AHS and Covenant Health on COVID-19, which outlines the following pay leave provisions for employees who are required to self-isolate:

  • Symptomatic employees without a confirmed workplace exposure are expected to take a COVID-19 test and will be paid sick leave for any regularly scheduled shifts for the duration of their illness or for the applicable isolation period, whichever ends later. Employees who exhaust their sick bank will be able to apply for short-term disability or long-term disability, the normal elimination period for which have been waived.
  • Symptomatic employees with a confirmed workplace exposure who experience illness, whether regular or casual employees, will be able to apply for Workers Compensation under the provisions of the collective agreement.
  • Asymptomatic employees under quarantine are also expected to take a COVID-19 test, and will be eligible to be paid the basic rate of pay for all regularly scheduled shifts for the duration of the 14-day quarantine period, retroactive to July 6, 2020. This provision does not apply for employees who are required to quarantine because of non-essential international travel.
  • Asymptomatic employees impacted by work restrictions and orders by the Medical Officer of Health affecting their site, unit or office will be eligible for a number of measures to make up for missed regularly scheduled shifts or be compensated for them.
  • Link to MOA: https://www.una.ab.ca/files/uploads/2021/1/signed_MoA.pdf

19. How should my time be coded if I am required to stay home to care for a child who is required to self-isolate because of COVID-19 or because of a school or daycare closure?

  • As per the MOA signed with AHS and Covenant Health on January 18, 2021, Employees shall be entitled to leave without pay for a period of time necessary to meet the Employee’s family responsibilities to care for ill or self-isolated family members, or children affected by school and daycare closures.
  • Regular and Temporary Employees who qualify for such leave shall be entitled to one day of leave with pay to meet the Employee’s family responsibilities to care for ill or self-isolated family members, or children affected by school and daycare closures. Employees are limited to accessing this day of leave with pay one time only.
  • Thereafter, Employees who qualify for such leave as outlined above may request payment from available banks such as overtime, named holiday, vacation, personal leave or unpaid leave to cover such absences.
  • If you have the ability to work from home, discuss this option with your Manager.

20. What if I am required to self-isolate and I don’t have time in my sick bank.

  • If you are symptomatic and self-isolating related to COVID-19 and don’t have time in your sick bank, AHS and Covenant Health have arranged with their insurance provider to waive the 14-day waiting period for STD and you do not have to provide medical documentation to claim STD benefits.
  • You will have to complete a plan member confirmation of illness form. If the absence was expected to continue beyond the initial 14-day period, medical details would be required.
    This does not apply to casual Employees.
  • Please contact your Local or UNA Provincial Office (Phone: 1‑800‑252‑9394; Email: ProvincialOffice@una.ca) for questions or support.

21. What do I do if I don’t feel my time is being coded appropriately related to me being off of work because of COVID-19?

  • Please contact your Local or UNA Provincial Office (Phone: 1‑800‑252‑9394; Email: ProvincialOffice@una.ca) for questions or support.

Vacations and Mandating

22. Can I cancel or reschedule my vacation?

  • This will need to be assessed on a case by case basis in discussion with your immediate Supervisor/Manager. Please contact your Local or UNA Provincial Office for questions or support. 

23. Can the Employer cancel my vacation and mandate me to work?

Yes. Article 17.03(g) of the Provincial collective agreement states: “No Employee shall have vacation cancelled or rescheduled by the Employer unless it has been assessed to be a recognized critical unforeseen emergency and it can be demonstrated that a bona fide attempt was made to mobilize the appropriate, available resources to address and resolve the issues before activating these provisions. An Employee who has vacation cancelled by the Employer shall be paid 2X their Basic Rate of Pay for the Shift(s) worked during the period of vacation cancelled by the Employer. The Employer shall also reimburse all non-refundable costs related to the cancellation of the vacation.” 

This is a world-wide pandemic and almost certainly qualifies as a recognized critical unforeseen emergency.

The employer also has the right to mandate regular staff to work greater than their FTE. For fulltime employees, this would mean overtime. For part time employees the collective agreement says where the Employer requires a part-time Employee to work without having volunteered or agreed to do so or on the Employee’s scheduled day of rest, the Employee shall be paid 2X the applicable basic hourly rate for work performed.

Casual Employees cannot be mandated to work.

No Employee shall be requested or permitted to work more than a total of 16 hours (inclusive of regular and overtime hours) in a 24-hour period beginning at the first hour the Employee reports to work.

The employer has an obligation to minimize the use of mandatory overtime, and if an Employee believes that the Employer is requesting the Employee to work more than a reasonable amount of overtime, then the Employee may decline to work the additional overtime, except in an emergency, without being subject to disciplinary action.

The Employer also has the right to declare that Emergency Circumstances exist. In this case, Employees from any site may be assigned to work at any site to provide assistance.  The Employer will have to reimburse Employees for all reasonable, necessary and substantiated additional accommodation and transportation costs for traveling between sites including parking if not otherwise provided. 

Locals should ask the Employer to notify the Local each time vacation is canceled or individuals are mandated to work.

24. Can the Employer order me back from a Leave, such as a Maternity Leave?

  • No, there are no collective agreement provisions that would allow the Employer to take such action, even in the event of an Emergency.

Accommodations

25. Should I avoid caring for a patient with suspected, presumed, or confirmed COVID-19, if I am pregnant, immunocompromised, or have an underlying medical condition?

Redeployment

See COVID-19 Redeployment Information for UNA Members: https://www.una.ca/1114/covid19-redeployment-info

Vaccination

26. Who is currently eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine?

27. Where can I find out more information and updates about the vaccine rollout in Alberta?

AHS COVID-19 Vaccine Webpage: https://www.albertahealthservices.ca/topics/Page17295.aspx

AHS COVID-19 Health Professional Immunization Information: https://www.albertahealthservices.ca/topics/Page17314.aspx

Alberta Health COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution: https://www.alberta.ca/covid19-vaccine.aspx

Alberta Health COVID-19 Vaccine Questions & answers for health-care practitioners: https://www.alberta.ca/assets/documents/covid-19-vaccine-q-and-a-health-care-practitioners.pdf

28. What is UNA’s position on COVID-19 vaccination for health care workers?

UNA endorses the January 18, 2021 Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions (CFNU) Position Statement on COVID Vaccination which states:

  • The COVID-19 vaccine offers much-needed protection against the continued spread of the SARS-COV-2 virus. However, the global goal of reducing the spread of COVID-19 can only be achieved if sufficient numbers choose to be vaccinated.
  • 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.
  • CFNU’s membership, along with other health care workers and essential workers, are at high risk of exposure to COVID-19. As such, the CFNU is encouraging its membership to receive the vaccine to protect themselves, their families, their colleagues, their vulnerable patients/residents/clients, and the general public.
  • Members with questions or concerns about the vaccine are encouraged to reach out to their unions, educate themselves and consult with their health care provider. For nurses who are unable to receive the vaccine, the CFNU recommends they contact their union representative.
  • While the CFNU believes that any risk posed by the vaccine is outweighed by the benefits to its membership in being protected from COVID-19, the CFNU does not support mandatory vaccination programs.
  • Link to full CFNU position statement: https://nursesunions.ca/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/2021-01_CFNU-position-statement-on-SARS-CoV-2-vaccination_EN.pdf

29. Are health care workers expected to get the COVID-19 vaccine? What if I decline?

  • UNA strongly encourages their members to receive the vaccine to protect themselves, their families, their colleagues, their vulnerable patients/residents/clients, and the general public but the COVID-19 vaccine is voluntary for HCWs in Alberta.
  • At this time, both AHS and Covenant Health have indicated that a worker’s COVID-19 immunization status will not affect any workplace considerations. Vaccinated workers still have the same PPE requirements, exposure criteria, isolation and quarantine requirements, and testing requirements as unvaccinated workers. Unlike with other communicable disease outbreaks, declining the COVID-19 vaccination will neither change their ability to work in outbreak settings nor have any other negative employment repercussions.
  • This change from normal practice is due to the fact that not all of the workforce has yet to have the opportunity to be immunized and that the COVID-19 vaccine is not yet widely available in the community. As these factors change, the impact on not being vaccinated will change to reflect current practices for influenza, which does impact an employee if they have chosen not to get immunized.

30. Will staff being immunized be compensated for their time, travel and parking?

  • For AHS and Covenant Health, where the Employee’s COVID-19 immunization appointment is outside of working hours, subject to management approval, employees will be approved for one additional hour of paid time at the applicable rate of pay.
  • If the employee has already worked a full day, the applicable rate of pay will be at the overtime rate.
  • Where COVID-19 immunization appointments are scheduled during an employee’s shift or where the manager has approved the scheduled appointment outside of their shift as paid time, the employee is entitled to reimbursement for mileage and parking.
  • Where the appointment occurs during their regularly scheduled shift and travel is required, such time will be considered work time. If the approved paid time is outside of regularly scheduled hours, travel time will be considered as part of the one hour of paid time.

31. If I am pregnant, can I or should I be vaccinated?

  • UNA strongly encourages you to discuss this with your primary health care provider or obstetrician.
  • The Alberta Health COVID Vaccine Policy and AHS COVID-19 Vaccine Biological Pages for the Pfizer and Moderna Vaccines have been updated to address the issue of COVID-19 Immunization in Pregnancy.
  • The current direction is as follows:
    • The safety and efficacy of Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine in pregnant women has not yet been established.
    • At this time, there is an absence of evidence on the use of COVID-19 vaccine in pregnant individuals. These groups were not included in large enough numbers in the initial trials to provide solid information.
    • COVID-19 vaccine may be offered to individuals in the eligible group who are pregnant if a risk assessment with their primary health care provider or obstetrician determines that the benefits outweigh the potential risks for woman and fetus.
    • However, the individual may also be immunized without consulting their primary health care provider or obstetrician following their acknowledgment of the absence of evidence on the use of COVID-19 vaccine in this population.
    • Response for immunizers if individual has not consulted with their primary health care provider: “The vaccine studies have not tested whether this vaccine is safe or effective for you. We recommend that you do not receive the immunization until you have discussed the potential risks and benefits with your doctor. However, it is your choice whether to proceed without consulting your doctor.”
    • Additional resources: Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada Statement on COVID-19 Immunization in Pregnancy: https://www.sogc.org/common/Uploaded%20files/Latest%20News/SOGC_Statement_COVID-19_Vaccination_in_Pregnancy.pdf
    • It would be prudent to delay pregnancy by 28 days or more after the administration of the complete two-dose vaccine series of an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine.
  • Similar direction has been adopted for lactating and immunocompromised individuals.
  • These updated resources can be found on this page: https://www.albertahealthservices.ca/topics/Page17314.aspx

Workload/Practices Issues

32. What do I do if I feel my safety is at risk?

  • Speak up and discuss the concern with your immediate supervisor/manager in a timely manner.
  • Document the concern through MySafetyNet (for AHS Employees) or for Covenant Health call the Employer Incident/Injury Reporting Line at 780-342-8070 (Edmonton Area) or 1-855-342-8070.  You should also report on a UNA Occupational Health and Safety OHS Form or you may fill out the OHS Form electronically on the UNA app and online at https://dms.una.ca/forms/ohs
  • Contact your Local or UNA Provincial Office (Phone: 1‑800‑252‑9394; Email: ProvincialOffice@una.ca) and ask to speak to an OHS Advisor for advice.
  • Consider your Right to Refuse dangerous work. There are certain obligations you must meet to exercise this right, which can be reviewed here. UNA will support any member that chooses to exercise their right to refuse dangerous work.

33. What do I do if I feel patient safety is at risk?

  • Speak up and discuss the concern with your immediate supervisor/manager in a timely manner.
  • Document the concern through on a UNA Professional Responsibility Concern (PRC) Form. You can fill out a paper PRC Form or you may fill out the PRC Form electronically on the UNA app and online at: https://dms.una.ca/forms/prc
  • Contact your Local or UNA Provincial Office (Phone: 1‑866‑492‑8584; Email: ProvincialOffice@una.ca) and ask to speak to an PRC Advisor for advice.

34. Are there any legal considerations I should be aware of when nursing in a pandemic?

  • The Canadian Protective Nurses Society (CNPS) does a great job of outlining some of the elements nurses should take into consideration when practicing during a pandemic:
  • https://www.cnps.ca/index.php?page=82

35. What do I do if my CPR (BLS) course has been cancelled and it is about to expire?

  • Due to COVID-19, all in person training was suspended in the Spring 2020.
  • Due to BLS course cancellations, Employees who require BLS training will be permitted to work in circumstances where individual certification has expired until March 31, 2021.
  • As course delivery resumes, contact your Employer for the most up to date information on course availability.
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