“The potential for a very big problem here is great,” said union president Tracy Zambory.
She noted two emergency room nurses and one nurse working in a different area of that hospital reached out with concerns about how the situation is being handled, after public health authorities called to tell them they had been in contact with someone with COVID-19.
In total, 72 employees at the Pasqua Hospital have been affected. There are 38 employees who are self-isolating as they were in close contact with the infected person, said Zambory. Another 34 employees are self-monitoring because they were in the vicinity of the others.
Zambory said it’s troubling how the health-care workers at the facility learned about the situation.
“The health authority, the ministry, they need to have our back so we’re safe,” she said. “We’re not feeling like we’re being protected. And if we’re not protected, how is it that we can protect the people of Saskatchewan?”
According to the nurses, the patient, a resident of an assisted-living facility in the city, was admitted to Pasqua Hospital through the emergency room five days ago for a different health condition, Zambory said. On Wednesday, that person was diagnosed with COVID-19.
The COVID-19 patient is now being cared for in a separate unit, said Zambory.
The province confirmed there was a case at the hospital during Thursday’s daily briefing.
Dr. Saqib Shahab, Saskatchewan’s chief medical health officer, said public health authorities are investigating, but that an outbreak is not being declared.
“A single case results in an investigation starting,” Shahab said. “An outbreak would only be considered if there was evidence of further transmission in the hospital.”
Saskatchewan Health Authority CEO Scott Livingstone said that all hospital contacts will be tested, as will contacts identified in from the patient’s assisted-living facility.
The nurses’ union still has questions.
“Why are we not treating this as an outbreak like we have in other spots?” Zambory asked, comparing the situation at the Pasqua Hospital to the one at the Victoria Hospital in Prince Albert two weeks earlier.
A patient of Victoria Hospital tested positive for the virus after being admitted for a non-COVID-19-related medical need at the end of April. The province declared an outbreak after learning of the case and touted its swift response.
“Because they acted quickly, the COVID-19 did not spread through the Victoria Hospital,” Zambory said. “We’re not so sure that’s going to happen here.”
Shahab said the province has since clarified its definition of an outbreak.
“A single case results in an outbreak declaration in a closed facility, like a long-term care facility,” Shahab said.
“In an open facility like a hospital, it’s more complicated because patients are always coming in and out,” he said. “The staffing is also more fluid.”
Shahab added health care workers are aware of infection control practices and now wear mandatory masks.
“What the outbreak notification does is it puts in extra procedures and protocols above and beyond the very stringent protocols we already have,” he said.
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.
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