Staff from two quarantined shifts at the Makhanda ambulance base elected not to return to work this week. The emergency services workers are on the same shifts as two staff members who recently tested positive for Covid-19 and say they will return to work once they receive their own tests results, and their two colleagues test negative.
The base, in Sunnyside, was closed on 15 May and two full shifts sent home to self isolate for a fortnight after the two employees received their results. The full staff complement of 69 had been tested for the coronavirus on 6 May and the results of all but the two were negative.
The two shifts totalling 28 people were due to return to work on Thursday 28 May.
But during a meeting at the base on Thursday morning, they said they were afraid to do so without knowing their own latest test results and being assured that their two infected co-workers were now negative.
“The Department of Health is forcing us to go back to work while we are still waiting for our test results,” said one staff member.
“We came into contact with the people who are positive and we don’t know what their status is now because the Department of Health doesn’t want to re-test them.”
The Department had said only that the virus had abated because the two didn’t show any symptoms.
“We have a problem with that. Those people were not tested based on whether or not they had symptoms. They were actually tested,” the EMS staffer said.
Grocott’s Mail understands that the two who tested positive are sympathetic to the concerns of their colleagues.
In order for the two recovered workers to regain their confidence and so co-workers could be comfortable around them at work, they want them retested.
“It’s so unfortunate the way the department is pushing this,” the member said. “We were expecting that duties would resume normally, but they are delaying the process.
“We are waiting for our results. Let the results come and then we can resume our duties,” another said.
In addition they didn’t know if the base had been properly disinfected. “This virus remains lying on a surface for more or less nine days.”
Another said the ambulance services management had been invited to their meeting but refused to come.
“It’s a known fact that when people test positive, before they return to work they must be retested to see if they are negative or not.”
The staff member said they didn’t intend to keep the base closed.
“We told the employer they can open up the station, we have no problem with that, but they must use staff from other stations. Because before these staff members return to work, they need to be retested.
“If the management don’t come to the party, what must we do?
“All we want is to be safe, and it’s the employer’s responsibility to make sure we’re working in a safe environment. We want to come to work, but only if we are tested and the result is negative.”
Grocott’s Mail sent questions to the Department of Health, including a request for details of staff quarantine and testing protocols, as well as reports that the Department had run short of testing kits and/or capacity to process tests and issue results. We had not received a response by the time of publishing and will update this article with it as soon as we do.
“What hurts most is he did it in front of [other people]. It would have been better if he’d said, sorry sir can I speak to you privately.” – EMS staff member talks about the day he was kicked out of a local shop.