COVID-19 and Breast Cancer: Resources and Updates for May 17th to May 23rd
If you think that you may have the COVID-19 virus, you can use this self-assessment tool. Links to the COVID-19 response from each province and territory, as well as their telehealth contact information, can be found here.
Most provinces and territories have outlined plans on re-opening businesses and services that were closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. We've outlined the specific parts of each re-opening plan that pertains to breast cancer patients.
Cancer Care Centres
The following provincial cancer centres and agencies have recently issued the following COVID-19 updates:
- Some ambulatory care and diagnostic imaging (DI) services are resuming.
- All treatments are continuing as planned unless you are contacted. If you are experiencing flu-like symptoms, contact your cancer centre before going in for your appointment
- There have been no appointments cancelled by the Diagnostic Imaging services
- Patients are to go to their appointment, unless they are told otherwise
- Regional and community hospitals are resuming some critical and urgent elective surgeries. Surgical patients will be tested for COVID-19 within 3 days of their surgery and then asked to self-isolate until their surgery
- Services such as ambulatory care services, clinics, lab services, diagnostic imaging, electrodiagnostic, respiratory therapy and therapeutic services are resuming for elective surgery by appointment only
Newfoundland and Labrador
- Elective and non-urgent services are reduced while all urgent and emergent hospital appointments are going ahead, as are medical imaging examinations and follow-up appointments for Cancer Care patients
- Medical imaging booking clerks are calling all Cancer Care patients to confirm appointments. If you do not get a call within a week of your scheduled appointment, call 709-777-9729
- All elective outpatient visits are cancelled. Individual services will contact patients whose appointments are continuing.
- Dialysis, chemotherapy and radiation treatments will continue
- All non-urgent diagnostic imaging appointments will be rescheduled
Health Insurance Plans
The following provinces have issued an update to their health insurance plans in response to the COVID-19 pandemic:
The deadline for patients to switch from a biologic drug to its biosimilar version has been extended from July 1st, 2020 to January 15, 2021.
Patients will be able fill their long-term prescriptions (up to a 3 months supply) as long as the drug isn't affected by shortages.
The 30-day limit on prescriptions drugs has been lifted for drugs that aren't affected by shortages.
Individuals on the Ontario Drug Benefit Program will not have to make co-payments until July 1st for 30+ day prescriptions that are being dispensed in installments.
Eligible individuals on the Trillium Drug Program can apply for an income reassessment to ease the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The supply limit on prescriptions drugs has been lifted.
Navigating COVID-19 and Breast Cancer
Studies on cancer patients diagnosed with COVID-19 are very limited. While some of these studies show that cancer patients are at a higher risk of complications, dependent of various factors, a very small subset of these studies show that breast cancer patients may fare better than patients with other types of cancers. While it's hard to assess your specific risk without speaking to your primary care team, it's important to know how to navigate returning to work now that provinces are beginning to re-open.
Questions to Ask Your Employer
It's important to make sure that your employer has taken steps to ensure that the workplace is safe to return to. A few questions to ask your employer to assess this are:
- What safety measures have been put in place?1
- What physical distancing measures are in place?1
- What PPE (personal protection equipment) will be provided or am I to provide these myself?1
- How many people (co-workers and the public) can I expect to come in contact with each day?
- Can there be accommodations made to my work such as doing telework, working away from the general public etc.?2
If You Do Not Feel Comfortable Returning to Work
If you've spoken to your employer about making accommodations to your job (such as doing telework) but it can't be done and you don't feel comfortable going back to work, there are other options to look into. If you're high-risk or living with someone who is high-risk, you can look into accessing “Other Leave With Pay (699)”. You can also look into taking paid sick leave, unpaid job-protected leave or employment insurance (EI) due to sickness. Recent changes have been made to EI in response to the COVID-19 pandemic to reduce the waiting period to claim EI sick benefits. You will have to get a medical certificate to show that you are not able to work to access EI sick benefits.
If You Believe Your Workplace is Not Safe Enough
When you return to work, you may have concerns that your workplace is not safe enough for you to be working there. In this case, you have a right to refuse unsafe work.
The general process to refusing unsafe work is as follows:
- Tell your employer that you are refusing to work because it is unsafe. Be sure to outline the exact reason you believe it is unsafe and have it in writing for your own personal records.
- Your employer will investigate the issue with you present, and provide their decision on the safety of the situation and the step(s) they took to fix the issue in writing. If you are satisfied, you can return to work. If not, you or your employer will contact your Health and Safety representative/committee at work.
- The Health and Safety Representative/Committee with investigate the issue along with your employee and with you present. They will also provide their decision on the safety of the situation and the step(s) they took to fix the issue in writing. If you believe your work/workplace is now safe, you must return to work. If not, you, your employer or the Health and Safety Representative/Committee will have to contact the Minister of Labour who will decide whether or not to investigate.
- If they decide to investigate, a Health and Safety Officer will be sent. Your employer and the Health and Safety Representative/Committee must be there and you can also participate.
- At this time, a final decision will be made and provided in writing in which case you may be told to return to work because the safety issue is part of the job or because the issue is not dangerous. The Officer can also agree with you and decide that the work is in fact dangerous and the safety issue will need to be fixed. If you are unhappy with any of the decisions, there is an appeals process to follow. If your employer or the Health and Safety Representative/Committee is unhappy with the decision that the work is unsafe, they can appeal that decision.
During all investigations, your employer can give you other work to do. While you have the right to refuse unsafe work, it is not to be taken lightly and should only be used as a last resort.
It should be noted that up to this point, there are no specific measures, financial or otherwise, that have been put in place to specifically protect high-risk individuals simply on the grounds of being high-risk. Whatever route you choose to go with, protect yourself when outside and around others by wearing a non-surgical mask, having hand sanitizers with you and using gloves properly.2