'Staying home is a privilege': Ont. government needs to implement paid sick days, doctor says
TORONTO -- As more of the new Ontario restrictions come into effect this morning, experts are registering their dismay over how the new rules fail to address actual issues raised persistently by health-care workers — such as the need for paid sick days.
Dr. Naheed Dosani, a palliative care physician, told CTV’s Your Morning that since “a significant portion” of the new infections are occurring in workplaces, the restrictions announced by Premier Doug Ford on Friday should’ve addressed that reality.
“We’re dealing with the human catastrophe that’s the third wave, and the Ontario government had the opportunity to announce policies that would actually help people,” he said. “Instead they announced policies that would enhance policing and enforcement, particularly outdoors.
“We did not see the supports that essential workers need, like paid sick days, paid time off for vaccination, even more reallocation of vaccines to hot spots, and other supports that are just so needed at this time.”
The new restrictions, which surprisingly included the closure of playgrounds, were followed by a swift backlash. Playgrounds were reopened almost immediately, and officials clarified Saturday that police — who were given sweeping new powers on Friday — would only be stopping people outside if they had a reason to believe they were heading to an organized event or social gathering.
But even as officials attempt to partially walk back the rules that have spurred the most criticism, there have been no announcements of new strategies that advocates were hoping for.
“I would think that the government’s goal in a pandemic would be to help people and save people’s lives, but perhaps also to be cost-effective and help the economy,” Dosani said.
He said that paid sick days make sense from an economic standpoint too. It would likely save money overall for people to take a few days off of work than to become sick and potentially be hospitalized, he said.
Too often, the call for paid sick days is characterized as a political stance, he says, instead of what it actually is: a strategy that could save lives.
“We’re not playing political games when we advocate for sick days,” he said. “We’re advocating for the people that we care about because we care for them, because we’re health workers in the middle of a pandemic.
“Nobody should have to choose between their health and paying their bills.”
Among the new restrictions is a provincial border closure, which went into effect overnight, as well as an extension of the stay-at-home order for two more weeks.
While this extension has been applauded by experts, it does not address the cases among essential workers, who are unaffected by the stay-at-home order.
“Staying home is a privilege,” Dosani said.
Even taking a few hours off to receive a COVID-19 test is not feasible for some workers, who might face retribution from work, not be allowed to book the time off, or simply fear the loss of crucial income.
These are the workers we need to help in order to stop the spread of COVID-19, experts say.
“Paid sick days make a lot of sense at baseline, and make a lot more sense in a raging COVID-19 pandemic like the one we’re dealing with in Ontario,” Dosani said.
Over the weekend, more than 8,500 new COVID-19 cases were logged in Ontario, and ICU numbers reached a new high with 741 people in the ICU with COVID-related illnesses as of Sunday.
Doctors working in ICUs have said over the past few weeks that the patients they are seeing are often essential workers from marginalized communities.
“What Ontarians need to realize is that we are dealing with dire circumstances,” Dosani said. “This is a severe situation.”
As the health-care system becomes more overwhelmed, we could lose access to the type of everyday care that we’ve become accustomed to in Ontario, he said, and triaging may become necessary.
“It will literally come to a point where there may be one ventilator and two patients,” Dosani said. “And a team of health workers will have to decide who gets the ventilator over the other.”
Dr. Michael Warner, an intensive care physician in Toronto, told CTV News Toronto on Friday that triaging is an “eventuality” he believes we will be facing soon.
“I'm not going to stop saying this until I stop intubating essential workers — take the politics out of it, just do the right thing and make sure everything that's non-essential is closed,” he said. “Those who have to go to work need the best protection available, whether it's PPE, paid sick days, paid vaccination time, rapid testing in workplaces, it's not that complicated.”
“We are reaching this saturation point in our hospital and ICU systems,” Dosani. “And the worst part of this is that this was all so preventable.”
He pointed out that experts have been saying similar things for months, warning of what could happen if we fail to act, and presenting solutions to the government, “and they chose not to listen.
“So my question is, who are they listening to? Who are they getting their answers from?” he asked. “Cause it’s not scientists. It’s not experts, and it’s not health workers. It’s time that our governments listen, and listening now will save lives."