Preventive Tips for Managing COVID-19 in the Clinic
Dear member,

We are living through novel and anxiety-inducing times as a result of serious public health concerns throughout Canada due to the emergence of the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) that causes COVID -19. As a service to the members of the CVMA, we take this opportunity to offer some general guidance on numerous issues that may arise in the conduct of your veterinary practice.

It is critical that all members make decisions in response to the COVID-19 pandemic with reference to only reliable and credible sources. As you will have noted, the fast-pace at which the virus has been transmitted has given rise to a number of statements in social media and elsewhere which are, at a minimum, suspect and, in some cases, patently false. As a healthcare provider, the veterinarian will be looked to by clients and members of the public for guidance and advice on issues that arise in relation to animal ownership and companionship. 

Given that your clients will be relying upon the advice you provide, it is critical from a risk-management perspective for your practice, to ensure your knowledge of the current status is accurate and up-to-date. This is not a time to speculate on a response to an inquiry – if one is uncertain of the accurate information, then no opinion should be advanced and a referral to another source should be made. The environment in which the animal hospital operates is quickly changing with new directives from public health authorities, governments and veterinary provincial regulators.
At the time of this publication, there is no vaccine to protect against COVID-19. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises that non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) will be the most important tools. There are three categories of NPIs:
  • Personal NPIs, which include personal protective measures such as washing hands using an appropriate technique or the liberal use of hand sanitizers;
  • Community NPIs, which include social distancing designed to keep people who are sick away from others; and
  • Environmental NPIs, which include surface cleaning measures.

Each clinic will have to determine which NPIs are appropriate for its practice.
Some common scenarios a practice owner may encounter include the following:

  • Employee attends the clinic while ill. Employees who shows up in the clinic appearing to have acute respiratory symptoms (e.g., cough or shortness of breath) should be separated from other employees and/or, if appropriate, sent home without delay. As a preventive measure, administrative staff and technicians should be advised to not report to work if they feel ill and merely let office personnel know of the planned absence.
  • Employee refuses to work for safety reasons, employee returns from travel from a region that has reported COVID-19 cases and/or evidence of community transmission, or employee informs the clinic owner or manager that s/he or a family member at home is undergoing testing for COVID-19. While this will require a case-by-case determination, key legal considerations for employers will be occupational health and safety legislation, employment standards legislation and public health guidance from reputable sources. Context will be very important. A region that has thousands of community transmission cases may be different from a region with only one reported case that is not from community transmission. An employee with a high number of face-to-face interactions may warrant different considerations than an employee that has limited face-to-face interactions. Ultimately, the clinic is responsible pursuant to provincial occupational health and safety laws, to provide a safe workplace. If the clinic owner or manager is made aware of the increased risk one employee presents to the rest of the hospital team, then the relevant employee should not be permitted in the clinic and seek access to employment insurance benefits if possible.
  • Employee discriminates against another employee on the basis of race or other prohibited grounds. All employers generally have an obligation to maintain a discrimination-free workplace. Clinic owners must deal with any discriminatory behaviour, such as inappropriate and racist comments relating to a co-workers ethnicity, from employees promptly and firmly. 
  • Significant absences in the workforce. Clinic owners should consider how they would deal with a significant number of absences, including for reasons of voluntary self-isolation or mandatory quarantine. Options include asking employees to work overtime and hiring temporary employees with appropriate short-term employment contracts to mitigate risk.
The CVMA hopes these comments are of assistance to you. Inquires can be directed to Dr. Shane Renwick, CVMA Manager of National Issues at [email protected] .
You are receiving this message as a member of the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA). The CVMA is the national and international voice for Canada’s veterinarians, providing leadership and advocacy for veterinary medicine.