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A nurse looks in at a COVID-19 patient at Toronto Western Hospital on Oct. 7, 2020.Cole Burston/The Globe and Mail

Anxiety-ridden and overworked health-care workers say they feel abandoned in their increasingly desperate struggle to cope with COVID-19, a new small-scale study suggests.

Interviews with nurses, personal support workers and others in hospitals and long-term care homes suggest chronic stress and burnout are common, but fear of reprisals is stopping them from speaking out.

“The knowledge that they are at increased risk of infection due to lack of protection has resulted in anger, frustration, fear and a sense of violation that may have long-lasting implications,” the paper states.

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The study, in New Solutions: A Journal of Environmental and Occupational Health Policy, was done by James Brophy and Margaret Keith, academic researchers affiliated with the University of Windsor and noted occupational hygienists.

Health care workers in Canada have contracted the novel coronavirus in far higher numbers relative to the general public, comprising almost one in five confirmed cases, according to a previous study. To date, COVID-19 has sickened close to 9,000 front-line health-care workers and killed 16.

Only 10 workers – nurses, personal support workers and other staff – agreed to be interviewed for the qualitative study. Others refused to take part for fear of being disciplined or fired, they said.

Also Tuesday, the Ontario government says it has started distributing COVID-19 rapid tests, with the new tools already being used in some hospitals and long-term care homes.

Premier Doug Ford says rapid tests, which can produce results in minutes rather than days, have been sent to 36 long-term care homes and 27 retirement homes, as well as some hospitals.

He says the province will continue to deploy the 98,000 ID Now tests and 1.2 million Panbio tests it has received from the federal government in the coming weeks.

Health Minister Christine Elliott says another 1.5 million Panbio tests are expected to arrive in Ontario next month.

The Premier has repeatedly called the rapid tests “game changers” in the fight against COVID-19.

Meanwhile, Ontario reported 1,009 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, but the government says a technical issue means the figure is an underestimate. Ms. Elliott said the same issue means Monday’s case numbers were an overestimate.

Canadian authorities are assessing COVID-19 vaccine candidates while trials are underway, speeding up any eventual approval for wide use. But science reporter Ivan Semeniuk says it’s likely high-risk people will be prioritized for receiving any vaccine first, with some possibly getting it as early as the first part of 2021.

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