Around 70 contacts identified after COVID-19 exposure at St. John's hospital

A COVID-positive person visited the emergency department at the Health Sciences Centre three times in the past week, health officials have confirmed, potentially exposing dozens of staff and patients.
A hospital sign reading Adult Emergency, above the entrance to a hospital.
About 70 people are potentially at risk after a COVID-positive patient visited the Health Sciences Centre emergency room, Eastern Health said Thursday. (Paul Daly/CBC)

CBC News has learned that around 70 people were potentially exposed to COVID-19 in a St. John's emergency room in the last week, after a positive patient visited the hospital three times in the span of four days.

"Eastern Health can confirm that a patient who visited the Health Sciences Centre Emergency Department three times between Sunday, March 28 and Wednesday, March 31 tested positive for COVID-19," said a statement from the health authority on Thursday evening.

The statement, released in response to questions from CBC News, did not specify whether the patient was asymptomatic during those visits, but described protocols followed by medical staff to screen for COVID-positive patients.

All visitors are asked a series of questions related to symptoms and given a mask to wear in Eastern Health facilities, according to the statement.

"Efforts will be made for any patients in the [emergency department] who fail the COVID-19 screening assessment to be placed in a private room, negative pressure room or other area away from the general waiting room for triage and appropriate care," the statement said.

"Staff wear the appropriate personal protective equipment ... and follow protocols when interacting with the individual in order to keep themselves and other patients safe. "

It went on to describe "enhanced" cleaning schedules around the hospital and distancing protocols in waiting areas, including Plexiglas barriers between seats.

"Under 20" hospital staff are now in isolation due to the potential exposure, the health authority said, and all are undergoing testing. "We have received approximately half of staff test results, of which all are negative," the health authority said.

More than 50 additional people, both patients and close contacts, have been identified "and are being contacted to schedule COVID-19 testing."

Eastern Health declined to issue further details about the patient in question, citing privacy legislation.

Exposure echoes previous headaches for health authority 

It's not the first time an Eastern Health hospital-related exposure has sent dozens for testing.

Last May, over 80 employees at the same hospital were asked to quarantine after exposure to a COVID-positive patient outside the hospital's designated COVID ward.

Earlier this year, the St. Clare's Mercy Hospital, also in St. John's, contended with an outbreak that sickened at least 13 patients and staffers.

Newfoundland and Labrador has four active cases of COVID-19, according to Thursday's update from the Department of Health. According to that update, no one is in hospital due to the virus.

It's not clear whether the patient described in Thursday's statement has been counted among those active cases.

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