Kingston’s Medical Officer of Health has a message for employers in the region after Tim Hortons issued a confirmation in error that one of their employees had COVID-19.
“If an employer ever has an employee inform them of a positive test, please confirm it with us before any communication goes out to the public,” said Dr. Moore, the Medical Officer of Health for Kingston Frontenac Lennox & Addington (KFL&A) Public Health.
The Kingstonist received confirmation from Tim Hortons head office on Thursday, Sep. 17, 2020 that one of their local employees had tested positive for COVID-19. The location, inside a gas station near Princess St. and Bayridge Dr., closed suddenly on Wednesday, Sep. 16. The manager of the gas station also said that a positive COVID-19 case had been reported among Tim Hortons staff.
KFL&A Public Health, however, said Thursday that they had no new cases in the region to report. They did not immediately confirm if the case was one that had been previously counted and reported, but were able to clarify on Thursday evening.
“In this instance,” Dr. Moore said Friday morning, “we cannot confirm any positive test in any individual who has worked in that environment.”
“Please call us at any time to confirm the diagnosis,” Dr. Moore implored employers, noting calls can be made seven days a week. “Most of the time, we’re already aware of a positive case. We will have already had a discussion with the employee and employer. We would have done an assessment of risk at the business, to [confirm] the risk to the community.”
Balancing privacy and public safety
Dr. Moore said whenever there is any risk to public safety, Public Health will communicate it quickly and transparently in partnership with any implicated business.
“We will give the business the opportunity to communicate the risk with us,” he said. He added that he understands businesses have concerns and that the community is very sensitive to news of COVID-19.
He said the line between sharing and withholding personal information about cases all comes down to Public Health’s risk assessment.
“Our nurses and inspectors spend hours with the [infected] individual to ascertain: when did they develop symptoms? When were they possibly infectious to others? Did they have close contact with others?”
Close contact, he said, is defined as less than a metre’s distance while not wearing a mask, or less than a metre’s distance for more than 15 minutes.
“If there was no risk to other employees or to the public, we may not need to make that notification. It will always be risk-based,” he said.
One of Public Health’s most important mandates, he said, is the protection of personal health information. “We only release information to the public if it is necessary to protect the public.”
“We don’t want to stigmatize any population, we want to honour our commitment to protect personal health information,” he said.
“The public, I think, is understanding of that…of our need to protect the individual’s rights,” he added.
He noted that the protocols for how a business should handle a COVID-19 in the workplace have been included in all the Public Health guidelines for employers, that the information is on the Public Health’s website, and that they will now be sending out further information.
“This is a lesson for all of us,” he said.