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

Updated: September 10, 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 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?

  • Employees 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.

19. 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.

20. 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

21. 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. 

22. 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.

23. 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

24. 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

25. (Updated) Where can I find out more information about the COVID-19 vaccine?

26. (Updated) What is UNA’s position on COVID-19 vaccination for health care workers?

  • UNA strongly encourages nurses, other health care workers, and the general public to be vaccinated against COVID-19 to protect themselves, their families, their colleagues, and vulnerable patients/residents/clients, as well as to prevent the overextension of all our health care services, including hospital, long-term care, home care, and public health resources.
  • For more information, see the August 24, 2021 Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions (CFNU) Position Statement on COVID Vaccination, which UNA endorses: https://nursesunions.ca/covid-19-vaccination-position-statement/

27. (Updated) What is UNA’s position on mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policies?

  • UNA strongly encourages all members not restricted by medical conditions or religious beliefs to arrange to be fully vaccinated as quickly as possible.
  • AHS has recently provided UNA with their proposed policy and we have provided feedback to them on areas of concern within the policy. UNA will update members as more information becomes available.
  • If you do not have a protected ground that prevents you from being vaccinated (medical condition, religion, etc.), UNA will advise and assist you if you face any adverse consequences from not being vaccinated, but it is important to note that any legal challenge (for example, through a grievance) will be challenging and may not succeed. The law requires a balance between individual choice and patient safety, and the best evidence currently is that vaccination of health care workers is a helpful component in mitigating the spread of COVID-19.
  • UNA members who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons or other protected grounds need to be accommodated by their employer. UNA will represent our members to ensure this happens.
  • AHS and Covenant Health have indicated that any employee who is unable to be immunized due to a medical reason, or for another protected ground under the Alberta Human Rights Act, will be reasonably accommodated up to the point of undue hardship and in accordance with their respective workplace accommodation policies.
  • UNA believes the question of mandatory vaccination is not a labour relations question or a political question. It is a public health policy question that needs to be determined by public health experts. It should not be determined by an employer or a union, nor should it be an item of negotiation between employers and unions.
  • On August 31, 2021, Alberta Health Services and Covenant Health announced that it will require all employees and contracted health care providers to be fully vaccinated for COVID-19 by October 31, 2021. This policy will apply to all AHS, Alberta Precisions Labs, Care West, Capital Care, and Covenant Health employees, members of medical and midwifery staff, students, volunteers, and any other persons acting on their behalf. That includes contracted continuing care providers and contracted workers.

28. (Updated) Will staff being immunized be compensated for their time, travel and parking?

  • On April 21, the Government of Alberta introduced job-protected paid leave to allow Albertans to access their COVID-19 vaccine. This new legislation means that all UNA members, whether full-time, part-time, or casual, can access up to three consecutive hours of paid leave (or longer if the employer deems it reasonable) to get each dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
  • UNA members are not eligible for reimbursement of mileage and parking expenses.
  • If the Employee’s COVID-19 immunization is outside of working hours, there is no payment by the Employer.

29. (Updated) If I am pregnant, can I or should I be vaccinated?

30. (New) Am I eligible for WCB if I experience an adverse reaction from receiving the vaccine?

Workload/Practices Issues

31. 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.

32. 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.

33. 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

34. 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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