13 cases of COVID-19 linked to transmission within hospital on Sask. side of Lloydminster

Thirteen cases of COVID-19 have been linked to the Lloydminster Hospital, including five health-care workers and eight patients. 

Five health-care workers and eight patients found to have COVID-19

Plaques on a wall in Lloydminster designating the border between Alberta and Saskatchewan, including provincial emblems. (Trevor Bothorel/CBC)

Thirteen cases of COVID-19 have been linked to the Lloydminster Hospital, including five health-care workers and eight patients. 

The Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) said Wednesday afternoon that transmission occurred in the hospital. 

"In the situation of COVID-19, most of the time you will actually realize that you are dealing with COVID-19 in retrospect," said Dr. Mandiangu Nsungu, the medical health officer for the SHA northern region, which includes Lloydminster.

A total of 34 cases of COVID-19 have been reported in Lloydminster, which straddles the border between Saskatchewan and Alberta. Eighteen people have recovered from the virus. 

The hospital is located on the Saskatchewan side and operated by the SHA, but serves patients from both provinces. 

"As of April 29, 20​​20, the patients are being cohorted in separate units in the hospital," said the SHA in a written announcement.

"COVID-19 patients will continue to be admitted to Lloydminster Hospital. Non-COVID-19 patients requiring admission may be diverted to another hospital."

The health authority said key emergency department, emergency surgical and obstetrical services remain available at Lloydminster Hospital, but that could change based on the "ongoing risk assessment." 

No plans for travel restrictions like La Loche

It said all health-care workers who have been identified as close contacts with a confirmed case are being tested as contact investigation continues.

Visitor restrictions were already in place at the facility, as they are at all Saskatchewan Health Authority hospitals across the province. 

"The heal​th and safety of our patients and the employees who care for them is of utmost importance to the Saskatchewan Health Authority, and keeping the people we serve and our employees and physicians healthy and safe is paramount to the work we do each and every day," said the authority's announcement. 

Premier Scott Moe said travel restrictions similar to those implemented in northern Saskatchewan, where non-essential travel in and out of the community is prohibited due to an outbreak of 46 cases, are not being considered for Lloydminster at this time. 

"The outbreak in Lloydminster is in large part confined to one source in the hospital," said Moe, adding that a conversation about travel restrictions may occur if the case numbers grow.

Lloydminster excluded from 1st phase of reopening plan

Although restrictions are not being lifted in Alberta, the City of Lloydminster had decided to follow the lead of Saskatchewan by following a five-phase reopening plan starting May 4. 

However, Saskatchewan officials announced Wednesday that Lloydminster — along with the northern village of La Loche — will not be part of the first phase of a plan to reopen the province, scheduled to begin May 4.

"We pray for a speedy recovery for those in our community who have tested positive for COVID-19 and once again express our deepest gratitude for our local health care professionals who are on the front lines of this battle every day," said Lloydminster Mayor Gerald Aalbers in a news release.

"We have understood from the beginning that Lloydminster is not immune to the scourge of COVID-19. This news should serve as a powerful reminder of the need for continued social distancing and other protective measures in our community."

Premier Moe said the Saskatchewan Health Authority is working with Alberta in its response to the outbreak.

Asked whether further restrictions should be put in place to block travellers from Alberta, which has had more than 10 times as many COVID-19 cases as Saskatchewan, Moe said there are ongoing discussions about the potential for further inter-provincial travel restrictions.

Outbreak revealed days after confirmed

Dr. Nsungu said that while the SHA notified the Ministry of Health about the outbreak in Lloydminster on Sunday, it did not publicize the information until Wednesday to avoid panic.

"The hope is always that you will control the situation, because there is also a balance between sending an alarm to the community too soon and you have to balance that with the negative impact that may result," he said. 

Dr. Nsungu said some patients who have COVID-19 were not notified until after they had left the hospital, so the link to the facility was identified through contact tracing.

He said any patients who are known to have COVID-19 were isolated from non-COVID-19 patients prior to the outbreak, as well as after.