11 patients, 5 staff test positive in COVID-19 outbreak at St. Boniface Hospital

Eleven patients and five staff members in two units at Winnipeg’s St. Boniface Hospital have tested positive for COVID-19, according to an internal memo sent to staff and physicians on Wednesday.

Management is investigating outbreaks in the hospital’s E5 and E6 units, and doing contact tracing for the period between Oct. 5 and 20. Potential contacts will be asked to seek testing and self-isolate if need be.

“We appreciate this is unsettling news. Please be assured that we have moved quickly to enact precautions that will prevent any further spread of the illness,” the memo says.

St. Boniface Hospital is still open, and clinics and procedures are continuing.

However, no new patients will be admitted to the E5 and E6 units, and visitors won’t be allowed into those units.

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Three health-care worker unions are raising concerns after a COVID-19 outbreak at Winnipeg’s St. Boniface Hospital has resulted in numerous staff and patients contracting the illness and a second unit closing down.

On Friday, an internal memo sent to staff suggested two patients had tested positive, and a cluster of cases linked to the E6 unit had to be closed to visits and new admissions. Possible contacts were then tested, the letter stated.

CBC News has obtained another memo, sent to staff Tuesday night, that states a second medical unit, E5, has also been closed for new admissions due to “multiple” patients and staff contracting the illness in the hospital. 

The Manitoba Nurses Union, the Manitoba Association of Health Care Professionals and the Canadian Union of Public Employees said they were notified by the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority about the expanded closures.

None are aware of whether any of their members have tested positive or are isolating in relation to the outbreak.

“Government and the employers got a lot of time to figure these things out, so when we’re learning now that an infection is actually being spread within the facility, it goes to questioning of the protocols,” said Bob Moroz, president of MAHCP, which represents 6,500 respiratory therapist, occupational therapists, physiotherapists, lab technologists and more.

“We’re all concerned about not only an infection like this being present in one of our facilities, but also for the health and safety of each of our members and all of the all of the workers and patients.”

CBC News has requested more information from Shared Health, the WRHA and St. Boniface Hospital about how many people have tested positive in connection to the outbreak.

‘There’s no consistency’

The updated hospital unit closure comes as cases continue to rise in Manitoba, with Winnipeg leading the way by far in total cases.

The province reported 135 new cases Wednesday, its third-highest single-day increase yet, and Manitoba’s premier announced elevated fines for people and businesses caught breaking current COVID-19 restrictions.

Debbie Boissonneault, president of Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 204, said officials with St. Boniface notified her last week when the initial outbreak was declared and E6 was closed. At that time she was told about 13 staff would be going for rapid COVID-19 testing.

“I believe it is larger now that they are doing some contact tracing,” she said.

She said CUPE learned Tuesday that additional positive cases had been detected in the E5 unit, and the same number of people or more would need to be tested. She isn’t aware of whether or how many of her members may be affected.

Boissonneault said CUPE is struggling to get a grasp of the extent of different outbreaks in care homes, long-term care centres and hospitals. Health-care workers are growing more anxious because of this, she said.

“They feel the lack of information provided to them could cause them harm,” said Boissonneault.

“There’s no consistency,” she said. “We’re not getting the proper information provided to us on who is getting COVID-19 positive, who are actually going for tests.”

Both she and Moroz said they continue to hear concerns from staff about sometimes struggling to access the appropriate personal protective equipment.

Moroz said that, paired with the province’s callout last week to enlist more nurses and health-care workers in the fight against COVID-19, isn’t inspiring confidence among some MAHCP members.

“Why didn’t it happen three or four months ago? There’s no surprise to this second wave.… Our members are looking at it in a lot of cases and say, ‘Well, you know, why wasn’t this done?'” said Moroz.

“They’re not feeling as protected as they could have.”