Montreal health-care workers seek changes to testing protocols after repeat positive tests

Two Montreal health-care workers want the government to review testing protocols
WATCH: Desperate to go back to work, two Montreal area health-care workers who have recovered from COVID-19 are asking the government to review testing protocols. A Laval nurse is sounding the alarm after continuing to test positive for the virus after more than a month, despite no longer showing symptoms. Global's Gloria Henriquez has the story.

Two Montreal health-care workers who have tested positive repeatedly for the novel coronavirus for more than a month are asking the government to change their testing protocols.

They say they are frustrated and believe the current rules are unnecessarily keeping them at home.

Melanie Fournier’s only access to the world has been from behind her living room window for the past 27 days, where she’s been stuck ever since she was diagnosed with COVID-19.

READ MORE: Quebec doctors heed province’s plea for help as coronavirus cases surpass 15,000

“It’s very, very frustrating at the most because I feel great, I feel like I could be out there, I feel like could be doing things, I feel like I could be getting some fresh air — but I can’t,” Fournier said.

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She can’t because nearly a month after having caught the disease, she is still testing positive.

Because Fournier is a health-care worker, the government continues to test her. And health-care workers have to receive two negative tests in order to head back to work.

But Fournier has tested positive five times.

“That’s really scary because there could be a lot of people that are out there like me, who have no symptoms that are just continuing to spread this virus without knowing because they won’t get tested again,” Fournier said.

READ MORE: In photos — Montreal marks one month on coronavirus lockdown

Fournier wants the government to change its testing protocols to test people after their quarantine is over.

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“I would feel a little better if they prolong the isolation period from 14 to 21-28 days,” Fournier said.

Fournier is not alone.

West Island woman who tested positive for COVID-19 has a message for others
West Island woman who tested positive for COVID-19 has a message for others

George Vertzagias is a nurse at the Jewish Rehabilitation Centre in Laval. He also tested positive for the novel coronavirus after experiencing mild symptoms.

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As a result, he’s been stuck at home for almost two months — and much like Fournier, he wants to be able to return to work.

“They should have tests that are more accurate and make us go back to work,”  Vertzagias said.

“I want to go back to work and help people and save lives.”

Testing positive for the coronavirus for an extended period of time is not uncommon, according to Joanna Merckx, Adjunct Department of Epidemiology, Biostatistics and Occupational Health at McGill University and the Director of Medical Affairs at bioMérieux Canada.

The repetitive positive results can be due to the type of testing the province is using, a swab test.

Merckx explained that the purpose of the swab test is to look for the virus’ genetic material.

“It’s detecting genetic material, not whether you’re infectious or not,” Merckx said.

Coronavirus outbreak: Quebec to test all staff at care home facilities for COVID-19
Coronavirus outbreak: Quebec to test all staff at care home facilities for COVID-19

Merckx says another test known as a viral culture is what should be performed if you want to know if you’re still infectious. However, it’s a longer and more tedious process than the swab.

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Merckx says testing everyone after their quarantine is over is not the priority.

“The bulk of the transmission is happening mainly at the beginning of the stage of the infection, mainly when we don’t know that we’re sick yet,” Merckx said.

The government agrees, with the province having repeatedly said they don’t have the capacity to test everyone.

READ MORE: Coronavirus testing will be expanded after shortfalls revealed: provinces

Keeping people home, officials say, is the best course of action.

“With this, I think we can lower the risk, and don’t forget that the test is sometimes good or there could be false negative, false positives,” Quebec’s director of public health, Dr. Horacio Arruda, said on Thursday.

But for those stuck at home, they’d like a clear path out.