At least 70 Health Sciences Centre staff self-isolating after COVID-19 exposure, unions say

By | April 2, 2020

Provincial health officials estimate about three dozen Health Sciences Centre workers are self-isolating after exposure to COVID-19 as of Thursday — but numbers from three unions representing health-care workers suggest the tally is at least 70, and includes nurses, doctors and security guards, among others.

Lanette Siragusa, the chief nursing officer for Shared Health, estimated Thursday 30 to 34 HSC staff are self-isolating, though she acknowledged that number may not be fully up to date.

The Manitoba Nurses Union confirmed about 40 nurses alone from the adult medicine unit were sent home Wednesday to self-isolate for 14 days.

The nurses and some health-are staff became aware of a potential exposure March 20 after a staff member in the unit at HSC tested positive for COVID-19, said an MNU spokesperson. A patient in that unit has since tested positive as well.

Nurses were told to keep working if asymptomatic, MNU said.

Another 25 HSC staff are also self-isolating, according to the Canadian Union of Public Employees. That includes 15 security guards, five transporters and at least five health-care aides and ward clerks, said CUPE Local 204 president Debbie Boissonneault. 

David Jacks, also with CUPE, said six more HSC security guards are in isolation after preventing a COVID-19-positive patient from leaving the hospital on March 27.

The true reality of what’s happened elsewhere is starting to be felt here in Manitoba.– Lanette Siragusa

And the HSC exposure incident that resulted in nurses having to self-isolate extends to at least two wards, according to Manitoba Association of Health Care Professionals president Bob Moroz.

At least some of those in isolation are members of the MAHCP union, Moroz said, which represents respiratory therapists, occupational therapists, physiotherapists and more.

A health-care worker at a Gimli personal care home has also tested positive, and nine residents are showing respiratory symptoms, said chief public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin. 

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“These cases cause us all a great deal of concern and we cannot emphasize enough the responsibility that all Manitobans have to slow the spread,” Siragusa said in reference cases of health-care workers contracting the novel coronavirus.

“The true reality of what’s happened elsewhere is starting to be felt here in Manitoba.”

WATCH | Siragusa reads an emotional letter from the spouse of a health-care worker:

Manitoba’s chief nursing officer, Lanette Siragusa, reads a letter from the spouse of a health-care worker Thursday about sacrifices made by front-line staff. 1:34

‘What has taken so long?’

A new set of guidelines have also been introduced Thursday morning regarding the use of personal protective equipment, or PPE. 

All staff at Manitoba hospitals who have interaction with any patients will now have access to a surgical mask, gown and gloves all the time, Siragusa said.

The presence of community transmission in Manitoba paired with evidence of front-line staff testing positive led to the shift, she said.

Siragusa said the provincial contingency plans for PPE use have been in the works since February or earlier.

Moroz said the universal access to some form of PPE is a positive step that should’ve happened weeks ago.

“Our members are really upset, they followed every single protocol,” he said. “The overarching message that I am getting from my members is that, what has taken so long?”

Guidelines on changing PPE

Siragusa was asked about a memo shared with staff suggesting they shouldn’t necessarily need to put on fresh sets of gloves, gowns and masks between patient interactions.

“It’s safer to have it on than to take it off multiple, multiple, multiple times a day,” she said, suggesting risk of health-care workers contracting virus is reduced by not changing gear frequently through the day.

Manitoba Nurses’ Union president Darlene Jackson disagrees with that advice.

“It worries me when nurses are told they are not to [change] their masks and eye protection between patients,” she said.

“That is a clear indicator that we are worried from our supply [of PPE], which is not the message we have received from our government.”

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Siragusa said Manitoba’s PPE supply is sufficient and there are more orders on the way.

She encouraged any health-care workers encountering barriers to accessing required PPE to inform their managers. She said there’s enough PPE supplies for the future and more is on the way.

Long screening lines

Another safety measure to come into effect is mandatory screening of health-care workers when they enter facilities.

They have their temperature taken, are asked to report symptoms and travel history, among other questions.

Long lines were visible outside St. Boniface Hospital Thursday morning.

Front-line health-care workers from St. Boniface lined up to get in, as a result of new COVID-19 protocols put in place. (Tony Bonomo/Facebook) 0:24

Siragusa said individual facilities will be allowed to determine how best to expedite screening practices at entrances to speed the process along — whether that involves buying more thermometers, having more volunteers involved or opening more doors to the facilities.

The changes come as at least six health-care staff have tested positive at three Manitoba hospitals and one care home, including two at the Grace Hospital, one at St. Boniface Hospital, one at the Selkirk Regional Health Centre, one at Health Sciences Centre and one at the Gimli personal care home.

A spokesperson with the Interlake-Eastern Regional Health Authority confirmed Thursday that staff at the Selkirk facility are self-isolating.

It’s unclear how many workers are affected, but appropriate staffing levels remain unaffected, said Ron Van Denakker, the CEO for the health authority.

As of Thursday, 167 cases of COVID-19 have been identified so far in the province. That includes one death related to the illness in the province so far.

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