UPDATE: CK hospital staff member tests positive for COVID-19

The hospitals in Chatham-Kent have steps in place to prevent the coronavirus. January 27, 2020. (Photo by Paul Pedro)

As COVID-19 cases continue to surge in Chatham-Kent, a staff member with the Chatham-Kent Health Alliance (CKHA) has tested positive for COVID-19.

The health alliance announced the positive case late Wednesday afternoon shortly after being informed by Chatham-Kent Public Health.

Lisa Northcott, CKHA vice president of people and chief nursing executive, told Blackburn News that the infected individual, who works at CKHA’s Chatham hospital site, is currently self-isolating at home per CK Public Health guidelines.  The staff member works in an acute care area of the hospital, but Northcott would not provide a specific department.

“We’ve taken every precaution possible to make sure that safe care can be provided here. So I want people to be confident that they can come to CKHA and receive safe care,” said Northcott.

Northcott said the individual did have close contact with other staff members while working.

“In those interactions between the staff members, one or more [of those] people were not wearing PPE [personal protective equipment],” she said, adding that all staff members who had contact with this individual over the past 48 hours have been contacted by CKHA or CK Public Health.

Northcott said around 25 staff members who had contact with the person who tested positive have been contacted and are also under quarantine.

Northcott said while the staff member did interact with patients, they are not at risk of transmission because the infected individual was wearing full PPE.

CK Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Colby said the person does not have symptoms and she will be retested to make sure it’s not a false-positive result. He added if the retest confirms the case is indeed positive, then her isolated contacts will also be swab tested between the seventh and 10th day to determine if they have the virus. Dr. Colby said by that time, anyone who becomes infected will likely have a positive test.

Colby said early testing doesn’t work because “you have to wait until the infection takes root for the test to become positive.” He added contacts of contacts are not at risk and only people who are infected have the ability to transmit the infection to others.

Colby also said regional laboratory capacity has “substantially” increased lately to handle the increased volume of testing and process the tests faster. Colby said the more people are tested, the more positives are found.

“When you increase testing volume fivefold is it any wonder that we’re finding more cases that are out there,” said Colby. “Part of the fact that we’re increasing our numbers is not necessarily that the train is going off the rails but we’re being better at finding what’s out there and getting a more full picture of what’s happening and we can’t lose sight of that.”

Northcott said this isn’t considered an outbreak because it doesn’t meet the criteria. She added the worker wasn’t caring for a COVID-19 patient and was wearing full personal protective equipment for all patient interactions. Northcott said no patients were infected.

Colby said this doesn’t qualify as an outbreak because generally, institutions must have two positive cases before it’s declared an outbreak.

Colby said there are currently a total of 300 people isolated across Chatham-Kent because of COVID-19 but that number changes on a daily basis.

The announcement of CKHA’s positive case comes the same day Chatham-Kent Public Health reported the municipality’s second death related to COVID-19. There are currently 77 active COVID-19 cases in the municipality, two of which are currently hospitalized at the CKHA. One other case has been hospitalized elsewhere.

Northcott said the staff member who has tested positive has not had contact with the two other individuals being treated at the hospital.

As a result of the positive case, CKHA has taken further precautions by cancelling visiting hours to all non-essential visitors. Northcott said it was a necessary precaution.

“Until further notice, visiting hours at Chatham-Kent Health Alliance’s Chatham and Wallaceburg sites will be cancelled to ensure the safety of patients, staff, physicians and the wider community,” the CKHA said in a statement. “CKHA continues to work closely with CK Public Health to take all appropriate precautions and safety measures.”

The health alliance said it will only be allowing limited visitation to the following patients:

-Patients who are actively dying may have one visitor present at a time.

-Patients who require a support person or advocate to be present, whose absence may negatively impact the provision of safe care.

-Paediatric patients may be accompanied by one adult caregiver.

-A patient who is at imminent risk of dying may have a loved one present with them during their Emergency Department stay. Paediatric patients and those with cognitive or mobility difficulties may also be accompanied by one person in the Emergency Department.

-Women in active labour may be accompanied by one adult visitor. This includes the duration of their post-partum stay.

Patients, loved ones, and advocates can appeal the visitation policy by contacting CKHA’s Patient Relations department.

All visitors are required to wear a mask at all times while in the hospital, as well as any other required personal protective equipment (PPE). Those who do not follow the PPE requirements will be asked to leave the hospital.

As well, hospital officials are asking that only essential items be brought to patients in the hospital, such as eyeglasses, hearing aids, toothbrushes and hygiene items. Other non-essential items will not be permitted into the hospital.

Visitors will continue to be screened at the main entrance at the Chatham site and Emergency Department entrance at the Wallaceburg location. Those who fail the screening process will be denied entry into the hospital. No children under the age of 18 are permitted to visit. All visitors must wear a mask and/or additional personal protective equipment, practice frequent hand-washing and will be restricted to visit in the patient’s room only with no access to any common areas, including the cafeteria or Tim Hortons.

– with files from Paul Pedro