False positives complicate returning to work for healed COVID-19 patients

Coronavirus testing at Tallinn Airport.
Coronavirus testing at Tallinn Airport. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

Healed coronavirus patients could experience difficulties returning to work as employers are required to demand a proof of negative testing.Family physicians however say a healed patient is no longer infectious, even if they test positive going forward.

According to data from the Narva Energia labour union, there have been many cases in the company where a person has been declared healthy from the novel coronavirus by a doctor, but as their testing results still come back positive, they are not allowed back to work. Such workers have been sent on vacation to wait for a negative test result.

According to the union, this is a vague situation as healthy people should be at work and sick people on sick leave, not vacation.

Aksel Ers, human resources manager at Enefit Solutions AS, admitted there has been at least one such situation. "Until now, family physicians have understood the severity of the situation, continued treatment and extended sick leaves until following tests have come back negative. This is a first of a kind situation where a family physician has declared a person healthy the day after their test came back positive," Ers said.

"By themselves, the employee is infectious because it was proven by the test. The employer accordingly offered the person, considering they were a risk to their co-workers, to remain on vacation and the employee agreed," he continued.

According to Ers, allowing an employee to return to work after testing positive for COVID-19 is far too great a risk for a company such as Eesti Energia, of which Enefit Solutions is a subdivision of.

"One comes and infects ten and ten leave and one stays at work. This is not possible from a viability point for this company. Who can guarantee this today as we have examples where people have given positive tests for a month and a half after being declared healthy, but there have still been infections among their close ones," Ers said.

"But I am more disturbed by how simply sick leaves are ended for those that have tested positive. That is the greatest point of worry currently," the HR manager said.

Argo Lätt, board member of the Family Physicians Association of Estonia, confirmed that a doctor can declare a patient healthy if they have not shown symptoms in the last 72 hours.

"There is no right to even demand them to go to testing because test results can come back positive for the next 90 days. The test determines particles of the virus, but the particles could be dead for a long time. We just get a false positive result. The patient is actually health and is no longer infectious. That danger has long passed," the doctor explained.

Lätt is convinced there is no reason to keep a healed patient on sick leave. "Why keep them on sick leave if they are healthy. It is harmful to the person. Employers do not dictate this, health care workers do. Employers cannot decide, they do not have a doctor's education," he said.

According to Lätt, similar cases have come up in other establishments, such as the Police and Border Guard Board, which is why family physicians hope to explain their views on the issue to employers at a roundtable meeting.


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Editor: Kristjan Kallaste

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