Manitoba health-care workers will be screened before heading into hospitals for shifts after new cases of front-line staff testing positive for coronavirus.
The measure, announced Wednesday, comes as several staff from three different hospitals are self-isolating, following exposure to four co-workers who tested positive for COVID-19.
CBC News has learned those four include two workers from the Grace Hospital in Winnipeg who have tested positive in recent days. There have also been positive cases at St. Boniface Hospital in Winnipeg and the Selkirk Regional Health Centre.
Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba’s chief public health officer, said Tuesday a worker at the Selkirk health centre had tested positive.
He confirmed Wednesday that workers from Grace and St. Boniface hospitals had also tested positive. He did not specify how many cases there were at either of those Winnipeg hospitals.
A note from Shared Health sent to staff at St. Boniface Hospital Tuesday informed staff that a worker in the echocardiogram department at that hospital had tested positive.
The memo recommended any staff who worked alongside the employee recently to self-isolate for 14 days.
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The Manitoba Nurses Union said Tuesday an emergency department nurse at a Winnipeg hospital had tested positive. On Wednesday, an MNU spokesperson said the union had learned of a second positive case at the same hospital.
That second case is a member of the Manitoba Association of Health Care Professionals, said MAHCP president Bob Moroz.
He wouldn’t reveal that workers’ profession or place of work, but said due to the nature of the job the person would’ve routinely moved throughout the facility in recent days. The worker has no known recent travel history, said Moroz.
Both unions say several health-care workers at the hospital, which CBC News has confirmed is the Grace, have begun self-isolating. The same goes for several nursing staff from the Selkirk facility, according to MNU.
Workers screened on job
Starting Wednesday, all health-care workers entering Health Sciences Centre and other hospitals’ access points will undergoing a screening.
Workers’ temperatures will be taken, symptoms checked, and they will be asked about recent travel history and exposure to known COVID-19 cases at all critical care areas, said chief nursing officer Lanette Siragusa.
She said the screening update follows confirmation of health-care workers at three different cites testing positive in recent days.
“This news of course is very upsetting to us,” she said. “Our investigations have not identified … any patients at these sites as being in close contact with these recent individuals.”
Siragusa said staff who worked closely with the positive workers have been asked to self-isolate for two weeks.
The Manitoba Nurses Union president Darlene Jackson said the union has been calling for screening measures to be in place for three weeks. She isn’t sure the measures announced by Siragusa are robust enough.
“We know the virus can be shared with individuals that are not symptomatic, so the fact that you don’t have a temperature doesn’t mean that you are free and clear,” she said.
“There needs to be much, much broader widespread testing of health-care providers.”
Call for more nurses
Twenty-four new cases were announced Wednesday, bringing the total to 127 in Manitoba, said Roussin.
Manitoba Health Minister Cameron Friesen issued a call Wednesday morning for more nurses to come forward and re-register — retirees, nursing instructors, those who recently returned to Manitoba but aren’t working, and more.
“If you fit these criteria we are asking for your help,” Friessen said. “Now is the time to broadly solicit for help.”
Premier Brian Pallister acknowledged health-care workers have become infected in other jurisdictions, and said it was inevitable it would occur in Manitoba.
But he said the call for more nurses isn’t a result of workers testing positive locally. He said it has been on the province’s radar for some time as measures ramp up to control the spread.
Moroz said his union is concerned about worst case scenarios that could lead to staffing shortages due to frontline workers contracting the virus.
As with the call for more nurses, he said it’s only a matter of time before the government is issuing a similar call for more respiratory therapists, which his union represents.
“Our members were already working short-staffed in way too many areas before this crisis,” said Moroz.
He and Jackson said some workers are facing barriers accessing personal protective equipment on the job, or are told certain tasks or involvement with patients don’t require the wearing of gear.
“It’s an absolute zoo out there, and our folks are very, very worried,” he said.
“This is dangerous. Their lives are on the line, their families’ lives are on the line.”
Friesen said the province has adequate supplies of personal protective equipment for now and is waiting on orders for more.
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