Verdun hospital staff, patients in grips of COVID-19 outbreak

More than 30 patients and two doctors at the hospital have so far tested positive for the coronavirus, according to two unions representing staff who work there. "It's a particularly vicious threat," one doctor said.

Every patient being tested and separated according to results, employees wearing protective gear

A security guard stands in front of the emergency unit of the Verdun Hospital on Thursday. Five doctors are in isolation and all their patients have been tested. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

Staff and patients at Verdun Hospital are in the throes of one of the largest outbreaks in a Montreal health care centre. 

More than 30 patients and two doctors at the hospital have so far tested positive for the coronavirus, according to two unions representing staff who work there.

On top of the two doctors who tested positive, three more have gone into preventive isolation.

The doctors who eventually tested positive are believed to have contributed to the spread of the virus in the hospital while they were asymptomatic.

But Dr. Jocelyn Barriault, the head of the hospital's emergency department, said it is likely the doctors caught the virus at the hospital. 

"None of them had travelled, none of them had been in contact with people who'd had it," Barriault said Thursday on Radio-Canada's morning program, Tout un matin

"They are all doctors with lots of experience, very devoted, very dedicated to their patients."

The local health board, the CIUSSS Centre-Sud-de-l'Île-de-Montréal, says it is taking precautionary measures to limit the further spread of the virus, including testing every patient at the hospital and separating them according to the result. 

Jean Nicolas Aubé, a spokesperson for the CIUSSS, said Thursday the hospital reacted quickly, creating what is effectively a "hospital within a hospital."

Health Minister Danille McCann said the situation was under control.

"I was a director general there and I know the staff, and I know the director general and I've spoken with her recently," McCann said Thursday.

"All the precautions have been taken, the isolation — and that's what is important." 

COVID-19 a 'vicious threat', says ER doctor

Dr. Jocelyn Barriault enters the emergency unit of the Verdun Hospital, Thursday April 2, 2020 in Montreal. The hospital has seen a sharp spike in the number of COVID-19 cases among patients and staff. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

Barriault said cleaning staff have been wiping surfaces down by the hour. The hospital also designated a "cold zone" for patients whose test is negative and a "hot zone" for those whose test confirmed they have COVID-19. 

"We took the bull by the horns," he said. 

The hospital was the first in the province to receive a patient who tested positive for COVID-19. Barriault says staff took precautions with that patient and that's impossible to say how exactly the outbreak originated. 

"It's a particularly vicious threat," Barriault said of the virus. "If you grab a door handle that's slathered in [COVID-19], you will get it. It's that simple."

He said doctors are especially at risk because of just how contagious the virus is, and the fact that patients with it who show up to the hospital are the ones too sick to get tested at one of the designated clinics. 

"It's impossible to say that we cannot be in contact with the virus. The game is to diminish the places the virus can be through different preventive measures, and that's what we're doing."

With files from Radio-Canada's Tout un matin and Sébastien Desrosiers

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