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Investigation points to multiple sources for COVID-19 outbreaks at Foothills hospital

Click to play video 'COVID-19: Foothills hospital outbreaks believed to be from more than 1 source' COVID-19: Foothills hospital outbreaks believed to be from more than 1 source
As we near the one-month mark of the beginning of the Foothills Medical Centre COVID-19 outbreaks in Calgary, the site's medical director says there are indications that the novel coronavirus entered the hospital via more than one source. Lauren Pullen reports.

As officials continue to work to determine what caused several outbreaks of COVID-19 at Calgary’s Foothills Medical Centre, and led to the spread of virus in the facility, one thing is starting to become clear: there is likely more than one source for the virus getting into the hospital.

“The preliminary conclusion we’ve reached is we don’t think there is a single source that explains all of the outbreaks we’re seeing,” site medical director Dr. Peter Jamieson said on Thursday.

Jamieson said the investigation into the source of the outbreaks, which span three cardiac units as well as two general medicine units, is ongoing and involves “extensive detective” work.

So far, Jamieson said officials have determined the three cardiac unit outbreaks are connected, however links have not been found between the other two outbreak units, but they are “being investigated as potentials.”

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Read more: Staffing shortages leading to burn-out at Foothills hospital amid COVID-19 outbreaks: Unions

Jamieson said it’s too early to speculate how the virus spread between the cardiac units, adding that workplace health and safety and infection prevention and control teams are working diligently to pinpoint the spread.

Several weeks ago, chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said investigators were looking into reports that the virus may have entered the hospital either by a visitor who was not complying with mask guidelines, or a staff member who reported to work while symptomatic.

Click to play video 'No determination of causes of COVID-19 at Foothills hospital despite reports: Hinshaw' No determination of causes of COVID-19 at Foothills hospital despite reports: Hinshaw
No determination of causes of COVID-19 at Foothills hospital despite reports: Hinshaw

On Thursday, Jamieson didn’t have an update on those specific facets of the investigation, and wouldn’t say whether staff coming to work while feeling sick was actually being investigated, but did say that prevention and management of outbreaks is only possible with “strict adherence to the health measures.”

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“We have aggressively followed up on any concerns about people not wearing masks and of course we do regular screening to make sure people aren’t coming to work when ill,” he said.

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One more patient was confirmed to have contracted COVID-19 in relation to the outbreaks as of Thursday, for a total of 46. Another health-care worker also tested positive for the virus, Jamieson said, bringing that total to 38. A total of 11 patients have died from COVID-19 linked to the outbreaks.

Two more units were also added to the hospital’s coronavirus outbreak “watch” list earlier this week — one cancer care unit and one neurology — and Jamieson said that means officials have increased screening staff and patients for symptoms and asymptomatic testing, as well as restricted the people allowed on the units, like students and those conducting research.

He said a unit can be put on an outbreak watch for a variety of reasons, but there’s been no indication that the virus has spread to any patients on either unit.

Read more: Calgary man dies after contracting COVID-19 at Foothills hospital; family seeks remdesivir for daughter on ventilator

Jamieson said he’s “pleased and optimistic with the progress on the outbreak units,” but said as long as the virus continues to spread within the community, hospitals across Alberta and beyond will be at risk of experiencing outbreaks.

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“I would observe that we continue to have relatively high levels of community transmission of COVID-19 all around the hospital, all around the province. This is a global issue, not specifically a Foothills or an Alberta issue,” he said.

The first of seven outbreaks at the Calgary hospital was reported on Sept. 19. From there, six other outbreaks were declared. As of Thursday, only five units remained on outbreak status, and three were on outbreak watch.

A total of 318 staff members were mandated to quarantine and monitor for symptoms of the virus after being possibly being exposed while at work. Jamieson couldn’t get into specific numbers on Thursday, but said the “substantial majority” had returned to work. A total of 45 surgeries were postponed due to staffing shortages as a result of the outbreak isolations.