Lloydminster Hospital head links coronavirus spread to masking policy

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WATCH: The COVID-19 outbreak in Lloydminster was declared on April 26.

The spread of the novel coronavirus at the Lloydminster Hospital could be connected to some health-care workers going unmasked months into the pandemic, the facility’s head said.

Dr. Kevin Govender, site lead for the hospital, said the COVID-19 outbreak declared on April 26 may not have been as severe if surgical masks had been mandated sooner for all staff.

On April 15, the SHA made masks a requirement for all staff in clinical care areas, whether they work with COVID-19 patients or not. Prior to that, Govender said staff at the Lloydminster Hospital were only required to wear masks when caring for COVID-suspect and COVID-positive patients.

“The policy has to come from the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA),” Govender told Global News. “It’s not a call that we can make.”

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He said transmission at the hospital could have happened before April 15, as the virus has an incubation period of up to two weeks.

“The asymptomatic spread could well have occurred outside of the continuous masking period,” said Govender, who has worked at the border-city hospital for 14 years.

“The fact that we’ve seen no further spread since we’ve been on outbreak precautions is suggestive of this.”

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31 people infected

About 100 of the hospital’s 500 workers had to self-isolate because of the outbreak.

“(Masking) may well have reduced the number of nurses and other healthcare workers that would’ve been out on self-isolation,” Govender said.

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Eleven patients and 11 workers were infected, along with nine others who were in close contact with them.

So far, two people have recovered. Nobody has been admitted to intensive care and most people who were infected are isolating at home, Govender said.

READ MORE: Lloydminster mayor unsure when city will be included in coronavirus reopening plan

Outbreaks in SHA facilities undergo a review process to determine what safety improvements can be made.

In a written statement, the authority said all facilities are expected to abide by its personal protective equipment protocols, which have been communicated as it responds to rapidly changing information.

“Learning from the team in Lloydminster has led to improvements locally and informing safety practices we implement across the system,” the statement reads.

Disciplinary action has not and will not be taken at the hospital, Govender said.

“There wasn’t anybody to discipline because there wasn’t anything that any of the staff did wrong,” he said.

Outbreak started with asymptomatic patient

The outbreak was declared after a nurse in a non-COVID unit was infected by an asymptomatic patient who had been at the hospital for weeks already for an unrelated issue, Govender said.

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“There was no doubt that that policy was coming down to all the hospitals, but it just so happened that it, unfortunately, did not happen in time for Lloydminster Hospital,” he said.

READ MORE: Saskatchewan health minister takes responsibility for COVID-19 communication shortfalls

Govender said he’s heard from people who are anxious about visiting the hospital, but he said the facility is safe.

“When you hear about an outbreak, you immediately think that there’s COVID-19 all over the hospital. That’s not the case,” he said.

‘The hospital is safe’

The outbreak has stabilized and is isolated to the third floor.

Patients are no longer being admitted to that floor unless they’re COVID-suspect or COVID-positive. Instead, they’re transferred to other facilities.

“It’s important for [people] to access services at the Lloydminster Hospital when and if they are sick,” Govender said.

“Everything has been done to make sure that the hospital is safe.”

Advanced screening, hygiene and cleaning protocols are in place, while the majority of staff at the Lloydminster Hospital have been tested for COVID-19.

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Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.

To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out.

For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.