Winnipeg woman concerned about COVID-19 exposure after mother infected in Victoria Hospital outbreak

The daughter of a woman who tested positive after a COVID-19 outbreak at Victoria General Hospital is concerned that Winnipeg’s hospitals are ill-prepared to protect staff and patients from the virus. 

Lilian Bonin’s 89-year-old mother, Christine, was admitted to the Victoria about 10 days ago for an infection.

Last Wednesday, Bonin was told there was a COVID-19 outbreak in her mother’s hospital ward and that it was closed to visitors. The staff said Christine was not in contact with any known cases and she had no symptoms.

It took four days for her mother to be tested after the outbreak was declared.

“They should’ve been prepared and right away swabbed everybody,” to test for the illness, Bonin says.

She is concerned with the directions she was given by hospital staff.

“I said, ‘OK, and what does that mean for me, who’s been visiting for six hours a day since she’s been in hospital? Should I go get a test? Should I isolate?'”

Staff told her she was being contacted out of “an abundance of caution,” Bonin says, and told her, “you should carry on with your daily activities until you hear from public health.”

As of Wednesday, 21 patients and 19 staff have been infected with COVID-19 since an outbreak was declared at Victoria General Hospital. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

Christine is among 21 patients and 19 Victoria General staff who have now tested positive for COVID-19.

“The concern is if people are getting that message just to carry on until they hear from somebody. They’re out there doing whatever they’re doing and exposing people,” said Bonin.

She got tested of her own accord on Sunday, after developing a sore throat. On Wednesday — a day after her mother got her test result — public health officials notified Bonin that she was a close contact of a COVID case. She’s still waiting for her own test results. 

In an email to CBC News, a Winnipeg Regional Health Authority spokesperson said the authority can’t speak to individual cases, but the hospital has taken “every precaution possible.”

Visitors and the care teams for anyone who is awaiting test results are wearing more personal protective equipment, and visitation is limited.

“As much as possible, all confirmed and suspect patients are put in private rooms,” the spokesperson said.

But Bonin finds it concerning that so many patients and staff have the virus.

“It makes me question whether they were prepared, to be honest.”

Communication was also an issue throughout this process, she said.

“Every time I phoned [the hospital, staff would] say it’s crazy. ‘It’s crazy here, we can’t talk now. Talk to you later.’ The phone would ring.… I’d let it ring sometimes for six minutes and nobody would answer,” Bonin said.

“I was concerned about my mom because I didn’t know what was going on.”

COVID-19 wards in Winnipeg

After Christine’s positive test, she was transferred to a new COVID-19 ward at the Health Sciences Centre, because those at St. Boniface Hospital and Grace Hospital in Winnipeg were full.

Public health officials said Wednesday critical care capacity is dwindling, as health-care workers are self-isolating because of possible exposure to COVID-19.

Shared Health Chief Nursing Officer Lanette Siragusa reported that 43 surgeries are being cancelled and capacity in intensive care units is at 92 per cent.

There are 71 critical care beds across Winnipeg’s system, with six empty.

With case numbers rising by triple digits nearly every day recently, Manitoba is on a worrisome trajectory, Siragusa said.

“If [case volumes] keep up like this, it could be days [before that capacity is reached].”