'Unacceptable:' LHSC boss admonishes staff for taking off masks amid growing hospital outbreak

The President and CEO of Southwestern Ontario's largest hospital has written a memo in which he admonishes his staff for removing their masks after a 'significant increase in the number of staff and physicians who have tested positive for COVID-19.'

The memo says 15 staff are off work with COVID-19 with another 55 under investigation

A person makes their way along a glass catwalk leading to the front entrance of the Victoria Hospital campus of London Health Science Centre. The hospital is currently dealing with a staff-to-staff outbreak of COVID-19. (Colin Butler/CBC)

London Health Sciences Centre President and CEO Paul Woods has admonished staff for removing their masks and not physical distancing amid a growing outbreak caused by "staff-to-staff transmission" at southwestern Ontario's largest hospital.

According to an internal memo sent by Woods to hospital staff Thursday and obtained by CBC News, 14 staff or physicians are off work after being diagnosed with COVID-19 and another 55 are under investigation for possible exposure to the virus. LHSC updated its website Thursday and said 15 staff are infected. 

"In many of these cases, internal contact tracing has shown the spread to be caused by direct staff-to-staff transmission," Woods wrote in the memo. "To be clear: this is unacceptable." 

"Staff are taking off their masks to eat together, both indoors and out, without distancing themselves the appropriate 2m/6ft," he wrote, adding the recent infections among hospital workers "must serve as a wake up call."

An internal memo written by hospital CEO Paul Woods says 14 staff/physicians are off work after becoming infected with coronavirus, while another 55 are under investigation for possible exposure. (Colin Butler/CBC)

Woods then tells staff "we must set ourselves to a higher standard when it comes to living and modeling public health guidelines both inside and outside our workplace."

"Willfully choosing to not adhere to our critical safety practices while at work may result in disciplinary action, up to and including termination." 

Woods wrote that the only time staff should remove their mask is while eating and even then, they must maintain a proper physical distance from their colleagues. 

The memo notes that with the approaching winter, more people will be indoors and it will become increasingly difficult for the hospital's 15,000 employees to safely take a break. The statement said management is trying to find a solution that will create more staff space for hospital staff in the form of new break areas. 

"We need to ensure our actions are not contributing to our community's increasing curve and remain consistent and committed to following infection control safety protocols at all times." 

Woods closes the memo by reminding staff that as healthcare workers, they must be "exemplars for our community" because many people look to healthcare workers and how they carry themselves both personally and professionally. 

"They follow our lead and I urge you to demonstrate accountability and ensure patients – and the health of our community – are at the centre of everything you do." 

Recently, LHSC told its employees to turn off their COVID Alert app, which notifies people if they've been in close proximity to someone who has tested positive for the virus.