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Many Canadian Employees Unable to Self-Isolate When Necessary, OVC Survey Finds

A concerned woman sits on a couch (IStock credit fizkes)Half of Canadian employees reported they feel unprepared to stay home and self-isolate if they or a family member becomes sick with COVID-19, according to a new study led by researchers at the University of Guelph’s Ontario Veterinary College (OVC).

Published in the Canadian Journal of Public Health in March 2021, the study surveyed nearly 5,000 Canadians in May 2020 on their attitudes to public health measures, such as minimizing personal contacts and staying home when sick. The researchers aimed to understand the factors that affect Canadians’ confidence in their ability to comply with public health measures.

While the majority of respondents said they believed the public health measures were effective, many said they would be expected to go to work if sick.

Gabrielle Brankston, PhD Candidate, Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph “Only 51 per cent said their co-workers would not expect them to come to work even if ill, and only 51 per cent said they would still be paid if they had to self-isolate at home. That’s a significant proportion of the workforce who can’t stay home if needed,” said study lead author Gabrielle Brankston, a PhD student in OVC’s Department of Population Medicine.

Lead investigator Dr. Amy Greer, an expert in infectious disease modelling and professor in the Department of Population Medicine, noted that throughout this pandemic, Canadians have been asked to make extraordinary sacrifices to reduce the spread of SARS-CoV-2.

Dr. Amy Greer, Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph “However, our data clearly show that not every person has the same ability to comply with public health guidance,” said Greer. “We know that to reduce transmission, we need people to be able to stay home when they are sick. As we now see increasing transmission in many parts of Canada, these data remain relevant and important even though they were collected almost a year ago.”

The researchers, who included U of G population medicine colleague Dr. Zvonimir Poljak, found that demographics was a significant factor in respondents’ ability to self-isolate when sick.

Younger individuals were more likely to report they had no access to paid sick leave and would be expected to go to work even if ill. Those with lower income, those who couldn’t work from home and those without paid sick leave were all less likely to feel confident that they could comply with measures.

“These findings reinforce the fact that if we want people to self-isolate to avoid spread, we need to provide more support for those who need to stay home but don’t have the means to do so,” said Brankston.

Read the entire article on the University of Guelph’s website.

Co-authors on the paper were Drs. David Fisman and Ashleigh Tuite of the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health and Peter Loewen and Eric Merkley of U of T’s Department of Political Science.

Funding to support data collection was provided by the Public Health Agency of Canada, the National Collaborating Centre for Infectious Diseases and U of G.