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Surgeries postponed, visitors restricted as COVID-19 outbreak grows at Calgary’s Foothills Medical Centre

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WATCH: Alberta Health Services announced some major changes to operations at the Foothills Medical Centre in Calgary as it works to contain COVID-19 outbreaks. As Lauren Pullen reports, visitation is now limited and some surgeries have been postponed – Sep 28, 2020

Editor’s note: Alberta Health Services originally said that 39 surgeries were postponed on Monday, Sept. 28. On Thursday, Oct. 1, the health authority said it was actually 36. This story has been updated to reflect the correction. 

A Calgary hospital was postponing surgeries and restricting visitors Monday as the number of people infected in multiple COVID-19 outbreaks climbed.

Alberta Health Services said 26 patients and 27 workers at the Foothills Medical Centre had contracted the novel coronavirus. Four patients had died.

Read more: Coronavirus: AHS confirms 5 more patient, 7 additional staff cases at Calgary’s Foothills Medical Centre

Hospital medical director Dr. Peter Jamieson said outbreaks were affecting five areas. It’s believed cases in cardiac and cardiac intensive care units are linked, but Jamieson said it’s not clear whether infections in surgical, transition and general medicine areas happened independently.

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“We’re working hard to sort it out,” he said.

As of Friday, 136 workers were in isolation.

Click to play video 'Alberta says it has avoided second COVID-19 wave' Alberta says it has avoided second COVID-19 wave
Alberta says it has avoided second COVID-19 wave – Sep 28, 2020

Visitors to the hospital are only allowed in end-of-life situations or if they have been approved as essential.

Jamieson said he hopes it only needs to be a short-term measure.

“Family members and visitors are an important part of looking after a patient and helping them get well, so we don’t take this step lightly.”

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COVID-19 herd immunity approach would have ‘serious and deadly impact’ on Albertans: Hinshaw – Sep 28, 2020

Jamieson added the hospital hasn’t noticed a downturn in the number of people coming to the emergency department, which remains open.

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However, he knows that was an issue at the beginning of the pandemic, when patients put off getting necessary medical care because they were nervous about going to a hospital.

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“I would want people to know that if they need the emergency department, they should come and we’re here for you,” Jamieson said.

Alberta Health Services has postponed 36 surgeries that were scheduled for Monday due to staff restrictions and a reduced number of in-patient beds at Foothills. It said the procedures are being rescheduled as quickly as possible, most within the next week.

Foothills is the main southern Alberta centre for trauma, high-risk obstetrics and strokes, so Jamieson said there are no plans to stop patient intakes at this time.

Read more: Family of man admitted to Foothills hospital during COVID-19 outbreak says they weren’t told ‘entire story’

Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer, said aggressive contact tracing is underway and it’s likely more cases will be identified.

“While of course the numbers are concerning, the information that I’ve received indicates to me that there is a very capable outbreak team who’s doing a tremendous amount of work to prevent there from being any onward spread.”

Hinshaw said she’s also concerned about an outbreak at the Millwoods Shepherd’s Care Centre in Edmonton, where there have been 19 cases and two deaths.

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The United Nurses of Alberta’s labour relations director wrote to the CEO of Alberta Health Services last week urging more support for workers forced to isolate due to workplace COVID-19 outbreaks.

Among other things, David Harrigan suggests in his letter to Dr. Verna Yiu that special paid pandemic leave, which was cancelled in July, be reinstated.

“Regular employees are running through their sick leave banks and casual nurses don’t have access to sick leave, so they are losing income,” Harrigan said in a statement last Thursday.

He also said nurses are feeling “extremely misused and disrespected,” and he’s concerned that they will feel pressure to report for work even if they are ill.

Alberta reported 1,549 active cases in its Monday update, which is an increase of 52 from Friday. There have also been four more deaths since then, bringing the total to 265.

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Read more: Alberta nurses’ union calls on AHS to bring back paid leave as COVID-19 pandemic continues

Sixty-three people are in hospital, including 15 in intensive care.

Hinshaw delivered her update Monday from home, where she is recovering from a sore throat. She tested negative for COVID-19 over the weekend, but said she will stay home until her symptoms resolve.

“I know that staying home is not easy and that many Albertans face difficult financial or other choices,” she said.

“Most of us have worked with sore throats or runny noses many, many times. However, during COVID, that’s not a risk that I or anyone else should take.”