Nfld. & Labrador

Hospital staffer — following Eastern Health guidelines — kept working until positive COVID-19 test result

The health authority says the St. Clare's employee was following public health guidelines at the time — guidelines that have now been revised so anyone waiting test results must self-isolate.

St. Clare's employee was following the rules, which have since been revised

The employee tested positive on Feb. 10. According to an Eastern Health memo sent two days before, staff were not required to self-isolate while awaiting test results in certain situations, and so the person continued to report in to work. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

An employee at St. Clare's Mercy Hospital in St. John's who tested positive for COVID-19 — sending patients and staff of a unit into isolation — was working while awaiting their test results, Eastern Health has confirmed.

However, the employee did not break any public health guideliness or departmental policy by doing so. 

"There was some suggestion that the individual wasn't following public health guidelines, but they actually were," Eastern Health president and CEO David Diamond told CBC News on Wednesday. 

The staffer's results came back on Feb. 10, a few days before confirmation of community transmission of the contagious coronavirus variant that prompted the chief medical officer of health to move the entire province back into Alert Level 5.

The staff member was asymptomatic while working, the health authority said when it notified the public of the result on Feb 11.

Eastern Health CEO David Diamond says no other employee or patient connected to the positive case has since tested positive themselves. (Gary Locke/CBC)

In an Eastern Health memo to staff obtained by CBC News dated Feb. 8, the health authority assured staff who were being tested because of a potential virus exposure could continue to work if they had no symptoms and that the exposure was "relatively low risk."

 Any Eastern Health employees who were also household contacts of students or staff at Mount Pearl Senior High could also go into work, the memo said, as long as the students or staff did not have symptoms or had tested positive.

Won't happen again, says EH CEO

In the wake of the lockdown, and changes to public health directives, Diamond said the same thing won't happen again.

The health authority's occupational health department is in line with public health, and so if employees call for testing, "you follow the same isolation procedures. You come out of the workplace until you get the negative result," Diamond said.

In the wake of the positive result, Unit 6 East in St. Clare's was closed to visitation, patients and staff put into isolation and the entire portion of the hospital deep cleaned. No connected cases have turned up so far.

"We're getting near the end of the isolation and we've not found any other infections so we're delighted with that," said Diamond.

More than 400 employees across Eastern Health's operations are in isolation at the moment he said, with eight positive cases so far.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador 

With files from Mark Quinn