With COVID-19 testing limited, will WorkSafeBC cover long-haulers claims without a positive test?

Katy McLean contracted COVID-19 in September of 2020, and she has been living with symptoms ever since.

“I call myself a long hauler,” said McLean.

She now walks with a cane and is constantly exhausted. She refers to herself as house-bound.

“I was bed-bound for five months,” she said.

She says with Omicron infection rates in B.C. skyrocketing, she fears there are going to be others like her who are unable to work due to long-haul symptoms.

“What is the fall-out of that going to be?” asked McLean. “Is it going to be, with the numbers we have, like a mass disabling event?”

The Greater Victoria Teachers Association is now encouraging its members to file a claim with WorkSafeBC if they contract COVID-19 at work.

“Then it is (the workers compensation board) that is covering the days you have to be away from work, rather than you depleting your sick days,” said Winona Waldron, president of the Greater Victoria Teachers Association.

But with the B.C. Centre for Disease Control now saying if you have mild symptoms and are fully vaccinated, you don’t need to be tested, some workers face the prospect of being unable to prove they had the disease.

“It is going to pose an issue,” said Waldron. “That issue between can you get a test? Can you get in to see somebody to confirm your diagnosis?”

WorkSafeBC says it encourages anyone who believes they contracted COVID-19 in the workplace to file a claim.

It says, ideally, it wants to see proof of a positive test, but if one is not available, it will make a judgement with available evidence provided by the worker and the employer.

But what if you are one of the unlucky minority that becomes a COVID-19 long hauler, but wasn’t tested, and now need long-term benefits to survive?

B.C.’s top doctor says there is a way to determine, down the road, if you were exposed to the virus.

“So, it’s not a readily available test, but you can do serology and a few other things and we’re working out how to manage that,” said Dr. Bonnie Henry, B.C.’s provincial health officer.

“That’s a blood test,” said Dr. Brian Conway, medical director of the Vancouver Infectious Diseases Centre.

Conway says the test measures antibodies in the blood. If you were vaccinated, the test will detect spike proteins.

“If you develop other antibodies, then for sure you were exposed and infected,” said Conway.

WorkSafeBC says it is currently reviewing its application practice as it relates to the adjudication of COVID-19 claims. This is based on the current situation and most recent medial literature.

McLean says she doesn’t believe the province is prepared for what is possibly to come.

“You know you’re going to have people in every sector who are just out of commission for however long,” said McLean. “There needs to be some kind of plan in place when dealing with all of that.”