LHSC lowers flags to half-mast as University Hospital COVID-19 outbreaks claim 6 lives

University Hospital on the campus of Western University in London, Ont, on May 13, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS IMAGES/Mark Spowart

As case counts climb in connection with the University Hospital COVID-19 outbreaks, which have now claimed six lives, the London Health Sciences Centre says it’s lowering flags to half-mast.

In a brief message posted online Tuesday, CEO Dr. Paul Woods says the flag is being lowered in memory of the six patients who have died as a result of the ongoing outbreak.

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“LHSC offers its sincere condolences to the families,” Woods writes, “LHSC remains committed to doing everything within its power to help prevent this number from growing higher.”

Of the 38 new COVID-19 cases reported by the Middlesex-London Health Unit on Tuesday, the health unit told Global News that at least 14 are connected to the UH outbreaks, involving at least 11 patients and two more staff members.

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In addition to two deaths related to the outbreak recorded by the MLHU last week and one on Monday, the health unit also confirmed three additional deaths, though only two were recorded in Tuesday’s MLHU update.

LHSC reported earlier on Tuesday that, in total, at least 48 patients have tested positive for COVID-19 in connection with the outbreaks, and at least 35 staff and health-care providers have tested positive in connection with the outbreaks.

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In addition to employees and patients, MLHU medical officer of health Dr. Chris Mackie mentioned on Monday that cases tied to the outbreak also include secondary cases, usually involving family members in the same household, and at least one tertiary case, involving a staff person spreading the virus to someone else who then spread it to someone.

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The outbreak originated in 4IP General Medicine on Nov. 10 but has since spread to five other units, most recently 4TU Multi-Organ Transplant Unit and 6IP Cardiovascular Surgery, with outbreaks declared Nov. 27.

The outbreaks also involve 6IP Acute/Decant Medicine, 9IP Sub-Acute Medicine, and 10IP Palliative Care/Sub-Acute Medicine, all declared on Nov. 24.

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As part of the response to the outbreaks, LHSC has implemented several new restrictions.

On Nov. 27 LHSC announced it would be:

  • postponing non-urgent, non-emergent surgeries/procedures
  • testing all patients admitted for COVID-19, enhancing surveillance testing for staff/physicians at UH who provide inpatient clinical care
  • masking all admitted adult inpatients at both UH and Victoria campus
  • temporarily suspending essential visitors/caregivers at UH, with exceptions
  • limiting movement of staff/physicians between units and hospitals
  • opening additional break room areas to ensure social distancing
  • opening 24 beds at Victoria campus to provide more capacity as admissions at UH are reduced
  • temporarily suspend student placements in 4IP General Medicine

On Nov. 30, LHSC announced it would also be:

  • reducing ambulatory or outpatient activity at UH to only urgent and emergent appointments/procedures/diagnostic services
  • rescheduling all other clinic appointments as virtual appointments, whenever possible

London West NDP MPP Peggy Sattler raised concerns about the outbreak in Queen’s Park on Monday, saying that MLHU medical officer of health Dr. Chris Mackie had mentioned that roughly half of the COVID-19 cases recorded in the region in the past nine days were tied to the outbreaks.

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“Six hospital wards are now confirmed to have cases, including organ transplants, cardiovascular surgery, palliative, and orthopaedics. This has once again forced the cancellation of non-urgent surgeries and procedures … London was already at the bottom of the list for the longest surgical wait times in Ontario, particularly for joint replacements,” she said during question period.

“What is this government’s plan to ensure that access to surgeries is restored for Londoners and to prevent any future surgical cancellations at LHSC once this outbreak is under control?”

Click to play video: 'Coronavirus: Surgical backlog in Ontario causing concern'
Coronavirus: Surgical backlog in Ontario causing concern

Health minister Christine Elliott said the focus is first on dealing with the outbreak before moving “as quickly as we can to get back on track and dealing with those backlogs.”

She said the ministry has been in touch with Dr. Mackie and “will continue to be” in touch with him.

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“We will supply the hospital with whatever other resources they need. If it’s more personal protective equipment, they know that it’s available on a daily basis. That can be ordered. If they need more human resources, if they need more staff, we’ll help supply more staff there. But clearly, we need to get that done in order to be able to proceed with those surgeries,” she said.

“We know that there’s a backlog. We know that we need to proceed with them, because if you lose a loved one to COVID, that’s tragic. But it’s equally tragic if you lose a loved one because they haven’t received their cancer or cardiac surgery on time.”

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