Nfld. & Labrador

St. Anthony hospital 'on high alert' due to COVID-19 cases

St. Anthony hospital is tackling COVID-19 cases with widespread contact tracing and testing of people without symptoms

Community transmission of coronavirus in St. Anthony leads to big public health response

There have been two cases of coronavirus identified at Charles S. Curtis Memorial Hospital — one a patient, the other a health-care worker. (Google Streetview)

Labrador-Grenfell Health still doesn't know how a health-care worker in St. Anthony got COVID-19, but the health authority is leaving no stone unturned in its efforts to prevent the spread of the virus.

The first case of the novel coronavirus at Charles S. Curtis Memorial Hospital in St. Anthony was identified March 27 when a patient at the hospital tested positive.

On April 3, Labrador-Grenfell Health announced a health-care worker at the hospital had tested positive as well.

But Dr. Thomas Piggott, Labrador-Grenfell Health's chief medical officer, said he can't clearly comment on any link between the two cases.

Piggott said the public health investigation of contacts of both COVID-19 positive individuals is ongoing.

"In a small community, these kinds of links may be possible," said Piggott.

"We're keeping the community, our health-care facility, on high alert, as we start to respond to this."

Community transmission

Piggott confirmed what had previously been reported by provincial officials, that the first case in St. Anthony, involving a patient, was a case of what is referred to as community transmission. That is, public health officials have been unable to trace the virus back to an individual who travelled out of province or someone else with COVID-19.

"So how did that person acquire COVID-19? Well, that's part of the public health response and investigation," explained Piggott.

"In response to the large public health contact tracing investigation that we did, we did not identify any clear individuals who also had the infection."

Labrador-Grenfell Health CEO Heather Brown praised staff response to the discovery of the coronavirus at the hospital. (Labrador Grenfell Health)

Piggott said Labrador-Grenfell Health has assembled a large-scale team of people to work on contact tracing, including interviews with the patient who has the virus as well as their potential network of contacts. 

Piggott said they brought in additional people to do the work as quickly as possible.

"Time is of the essence," he said.

"We identify all of these contacts, we make sure that they are in quarantine, and that they don't go on to spread the infection any further."

Testing people without symptoms

In the Labrador-Grenfell Health region, and because of the assumed community spread of the virus, Piggott said even people with no symptoms have been tested.

"We do know that a very small proportion of people can have the disease before they show clear symptoms," said Piggott.

"So that's something else that we did in response to this."

Janice Fitzgerald, Newfoundland and Labrador's chief medical officer, disclosed March 28 that a patient with COVID-19 at Charles S. Curtis Memorial Hospital in St. Anthony had not travelled and had no contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19. (Government of Newfoundland and Labrador)

Extra measures taken at hospital

According to Piggott, the hospital in St. Anthony has also taken steps to ensure employees with symptoms stay home, and all staff are reminded of practices to prevent and control infections, such as handwashing and good hygiene.

He said staff have also been reminded of the importance of proper use of personal protective equipment.

 "I have to say the group at Charles Curtis Memorial Hospital has really responded incredibly as a team," said Piggott. "We do need to come together to address this in our community."

Labrador-Grenfell Health CEO Heather Brown echoed Piggott's praise for the public health response so far in her region.

"In light of our cases that we have had to date, our staff have done a tremendous job in responding, particularly in St. Anthony," she said.

"It's been very concerning, no doubt, for our staff members, and thinking about their own safety and their community," said Brown.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

About the Author

Bernice Hillier is a host of CBC Newfoundland Morning, which airs weekday mornings across western and central Newfoundland, as well as southern Labrador.