Manitoba

11 patients, 5 staff test positive in COVID-19 outbreak at St. Boniface Hospital

Eleven patients and five staff members have now tested positive for COVID-19 following an outbreak at Winnipeg's St. Boniface Hospital — an outbreak that has sparked concerns among three unions representing health-care workers.

Hospital has closed 2nd unit amid COVID-19 outbreak

A COVID-19 outbreak was declared at St. Boniface Hospital last week after two patients tested positive for the illness. Two units at the hospital are now closed to new admissions. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

Eleven patients and five staff members have now tested positive for COVID-19 following an outbreak at Winnipeg's St. Boniface Hospital — an outbreak that has sparked concern among three unions representing health-care workers.

Management is investigating outbreaks in the hospital's E5 and E6 medical units, and doing contact tracing for the period between Oct. 5 and 20. Potential contacts will be asked to seek testing and self-isolate if need be.

The outbreak was first reported last Friday, when an internal memo sent to staff suggested two patients had tested positive, and a "cluster" of cases were linked to the E6 unit.

CBC News obtained another memo, sent to staff Tuesday night, that said the E5 was also closed for new admissions due to "multiple" patients and staff contracting the illness in the hospital. 

In an internal memo sent to staff and physicians on Wednesday, hospital administration said the number of cases as of that morning had risen to 11 patients and five staff between the two units.

"We appreciate this is unsettling news. Please be assured that we have moved quickly to enact precautions that will prevent any further spread of the illness," the memo says.

St. Boniface Hospital is still open, and clinics and procedures are continuing.

However, no new patients will be admitted to the E5 and E6 units, and visitors won't be allowed into those units.

Communication with nurses slow: MNU

The Manitoba Nurses Union, the Manitoba Association of Health Care Professionals and the Canadian Union of Public Employees said they were notified by the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority about the expanded closures.

The MNU says it's aware of one nurse among the five staff members who have tested positive so far, and is waiting for confirmation to determine if more nurses are affected or isolating.

 The union's president says communication about the outbreak has been slow.

"In order to contain any outbreak, it is imperative for communication to be shared as expediently possible, so that affected staff are aware of the facts and measures being implemented, and can take the necessary steps to protect their patients and themselves," president Darlene Jackson said in an emailed statement on Wednesday.

The unions are concerned about the outbreak protocols.

"Government and the employers got a lot of time to figure these things out, so when we're learning now that an infection is actually being spread within the facility, it goes to questioning of the protocols," said Bob Moroz, president of MAHCP, which represents 6,500 respiratory therapist, occupational therapists, physiotherapists, lab technologists and more.

"We're all concerned about not only an infection like this being present in one of our facilities, but also for the health and safety of each of our members and all of the all of the workers and patients."

'There's no consistency': CUPE

The updated hospital unit closure comes as cases continue to rise in Manitoba, with Winnipeg leading the way by far in total cases.

The province reported 135 new cases Wednesday, its third-highest single-day increase yet, and Manitoba's premier announced elevated fines for people and businesses caught breaking current COVID-19 restrictions.

Debbie Boissonneault, president of Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 204, said officials with St. Boniface notified her last week when the initial outbreak was declared and E6 was closed. At that time she was told about 13 staff would be going for rapid COVID-19 testing.

"I believe it is larger now that they are doing some contact tracing," she said.

She said CUPE learned Tuesday that additional positive cases had been detected in the E5 unit, and the same number of people or more would need to be tested. She isn't aware of whether or how many of her members may be affected.

Boissonneault said CUPE is struggling to get a grasp of the extent of different outbreaks in care homes, long-term care centres and hospitals. Health-care workers are growing more anxious because of this, she said.

"They feel the lack of information provided to them could cause them harm," said Boissonneault.

"There's no consistency," she said. "We're not getting the proper information provided to us on who is getting COVID-19 positive, who are actually going for tests."

Both she and Moroz said they continue to hear concerns from staff about sometimes struggling to access the appropriate personal protective equipment.

Moroz said that, paired with the province's callout last week to enlist more nurses and health-care workers in the fight against COVID-19, isn't inspiring confidence among some MAHCP members.

"Why didn't it happen three or four months ago? There's no surprise to this second wave.… Our members are looking at it in a lot of cases and say, 'Well, you know, why wasn't this done?'" said Moroz.

"They're not feeling as protected as they could have."

2nd outbreak at Winnipeg hospital

This is the second outbreak at a Winnipeg hospital since the pandemic began.

An outbreak that started at the end of March at the Health Sciences Centre infected more than two dozen people, and two patients died as a result, public health officials said last month.

According to an epidemiology report, 16 staff members, five patients and four close contacts of cases were linked to the HSC outbreak.

A Winnipeg man in his 60s died on April 7 and a woman in her 60s from southwestern Manitoba died on April 15 after testing positive for the virus. Both were patients at HSC when they died.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Bryce Hoye

Reporter

Bryce Hoye is an award-winning journalist and science writer with a background in wildlife biology and interests in courts, climate, health and more. He has produced episodes for CBC's Quirks & Quarks and Front Burner. He is the Prairie rep for OutCBC. Story idea? Email bryce.hoye@cbc.ca.

With files from Rachel Bergen, Chloé Dioré de Périgny and Caroline Barghout

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