Grocery worker not aware they were tested for COVID-19

(Newswatch Group/File)

Update 6:50 p.m. Sunday: Food Basics worker was not told to isolate after test at Cornwall Community Hospital. Click here for the story.

CORNWALL – A Cornwall grocery store worker who tested positive for COVID-19 was unaware they were being tested for the disease, a family member has told Cornwall Newswatch.

The assertion has been confirmed by a Cornwall Community Hospital official, who acknowledged a breakdown in communication.

In respecting patient confidentiality laws, Cornwall Newswatch is not identifying the source.

The worker at the Brookdale Avenue Food Basics started developing symptoms on Wednesday, the health unit said.

The family member says the worker went to the Cornwall Community Hospital on Thursday for a sore throat, was given a throat swab, but was never told they were being tested for coronavirus.

“This person went to the hospital on Thursday for a sore throat and saw the doctor. The doctor looked at it, said okay, it’s either strep throat or mono (mononucleosis). The person left (and) was never told they were being tested for COVID-19, was never provided any information in regards to COVID-19. (They were) only advised that we’ll get back to you with your test results,” the source said.

The worker was given some medication but was never asked if they had a job, the source explained.

According to the Mayo Clinic, strep throat (streptococcal pharyngitis) is a bacterial infection and has a lot of similar symptoms to COVID-19. It can be contagious but 24 hours after starting antibiotics, it’s usually not. Mononucleosis, also known as the “kissing disease,” is spread through kissing or sharing drinks or utensils with other people.

Had the employee known they were being tested for COVID-19, they would never have gone to work and would have self-isolated, the source said.

The grocery store worker was feeling better Saturday and went back to work. “Around noon, we get the phone call, saying you tested positive for COVID-19. And we’re like ‘What? Are you kidding us? Nobody told us anything about being tested for COVID-19,’” they said.

The family member says the worker is “devastated,” given the social media backlash based on the Eastern Ontario Health Unit’s synopsis of events, which makes it appear they knowingly went back to work after being tested for COVID-19, which would be contrary to a health unit legal order.

“There’s some pretty nasty comments being thrown out there on Facebook. It’s really devastating (them) right now,” they said.

As for the person’s illness, their symptoms are still mild and they’re recovering.

Cornwall Community Hospital CEO Jeanette Despatie could not speak to details of the case citing confidentiality but confirmed that the case “has been reviewed and we have indicated opportunities to improve our processes to ensure that all patients receive information prior to leaving the emergency department.”

Despatie further confirmed that, while they have an information kit on COVID-19 including instructions for patients suspected of having the disease, “we regret that this was not provided to this patient.”

She added that, given their hospital controls, there was no risk of exposure to others in the hospital during the patient’s visit.

Medical Officer of Health Dr. Paul Roumeliotis told CNW by email Sunday that the health unit’s “immediate goal” was informing the public as soon as possible. “However, we are looking into all of the circumstances and will clarify as soon as I speak with the medical staff,” he wrote.

The Eastern Ontario Health Unit has called a news conference for 4:15 p.m. Sunday to address the case.