Positive COVID-19 test at Victoria Hospital leads to declaration of outbreak

Patient tested negative before being admitted; outbreak declared because of length of stay and number of staff members who could have come into contact with case

Prince Albert's Victoria Hospital. (Herald file photo)

Updated on May 1, 2020 at 7:10 p.m.

The Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) has declared a COVID-19 outbreak at Prince Albert’s Victoria Hospital after a single patient tested positive for the virus due to their length of stay at the facility.

According to a press release, the patient was admitted for Non-COVID-related reasons back on April 21. At the time, they had been tested for COVID-19 and the results came back negative. They were also screened for the virus.

But eight days later, on April 29, a second test was ordered. This time, the patient tested positive.

The outbreak was declared in the evening of April 30 and announced publicly on Friday, May 1.

“This outbreak involves only one patient, however because there was a prolonged period of time this patient was admitted and a number of staff were exposed to this person … the outbreak was declared,” explained SHA executive director Scott Livingstone.

All staff members who had contact with the patient have been sent home and ordered to self-isolate until the contact tracing and investigation are completed.

“We’re currently … determining who was in direct contact and what actual staff will have to be isolated for an extended period of time.”

While exact numbers weren’t available, SHA’s Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Susan Shaw said that between Prince Albert and Lloydminster, where there is also a hospital outbreak, between 60-80 staff members have been asked to self-isolate at home.

A press release said there is no evidence to suggest there is spread within the hospital setting. It can take 14 days for COVID-19 symptoms to develop. Infection control was immediately notified of the positive test and made sure all protocols were put into place.

Any staff members wearing proper PPE won’t be considered direct contacts with the infected patient, and will be permitted to return to work and self-monitor for any symptoms.

In a statement, Prince Albert Northcote MLA Nicole Rancourt said that while the news is “concerning”, she knows the people of the city are “strong and resilient.

““With the sobering news today, it’s important now, more than ever, that we continue to show that strength. Now is not the time to take our foot off the pedal or treat this pandemic less seriously,” she said.  

“If we work together and continue to follow the rules around physical distancing, we can overcome this. To all our healthcare workers who are doing everything they can to preserve our safety while risking theirs, I want to say thank you.”

Staff members from other facilities will be used to fill in vacancies caused by self-isolation orders. While some services may be affected and an ICU patient was transferred to Saskatoon, Prince Albert’s emergency room remains open, the SHA said.

The province assured the public that the hospital setting remains safe.

“Our health care workers in the SHA have made incredible efforts to make sure all of our facilities are incredibly safe,” Health Minister Jim Reiter said.

“This is an insidious disease we’re dealing with and it has  caused havoc around the world. But if you look at the record in Saskatchewan, in our health care facilities — and we’re taking nothing for granted — it’s been very good.”

Shaw said the SHA processes and assesses every patient and staff member when they enter a facility.

“We’re doing our investigation to understand what happened in Prince Albert so we can get to the root cause and make sure our processes are solid,” Shaw said.

“When you think you need care, please come. We want to see you. We’re doing everything we can to make sure that it’s the safest, best experience possible. I am worried that people are delaying care. If you feel like you need care, reach out. We are here for you.”

Livingstone said that there is a possibility that people are in the community and come in while asymptomatic and later develop symptoms of COVID-19. He said procedures such as continuous mask-wearing, cohorting of patients and staff, restrictions on visitors and daily assessments will help to contain any spread of the virus.

“As scary as COVID has been and as quickly as it can jump, people have health care needs and we cannot keep our facilities closed,” he said.

“The collateral damage caused by not caring for people properly  … could be worse than COVID ever could be and we need to find that balance. It’s not that they’re risk-free environments, but we’re doing whatever we can to diminish risk.”

Shaw said the SHA isn’t looking at expanding testing in the hospital because asymptomatic patients getting tested and that test coming back negative can be difficult to interpret.

“I think the more important thing is constantly reassessing how patients are and how their status may change, and adjusting on that,” she said.

More information, such as affected areas of the hospital, will be made public as it comes available.