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12 deaths linked to University Hospital COVID-19 outbreak, officials dispel staff ‘potluck’ rumour

University Hospital in London Ont. Dec. 3, 2020. Justin Walters-Stutt

London Health Sciences Centre (LHSC) officials held a news briefing Friday breaking down the events leading to the coronavirus outbreak at University Hospital (UH) that is now linked to more than 100 cases and 12 deaths.

Read more: What went wrong? 10 dead, more than 100 infected in University Hospital COVID-19 outbreaks

As of Friday LHSC has confirmed there are at least 112 cases associated with the outbreak at UH of which 48 are staff and physicians and 64 are patients. Of the patient cases, at least 12 people have died. (The health unit said Thursday that the outbreak has now been linked to 124 cases at the facility, with 62 involving patients and 62 involving staff. Where the discrepancy comes from is unclear.)

“Keeping a pandemic out of a hospital is a challenge and now that it’s here, getting it out is even more difficult,” said Dr. Paul Woods, president and chief executive officer of LHSC.

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On Friday Woods dispelled rumours of a potluck being the cause of some of the cases linked to the outbreak.

“I know there’s been a great deal of recent speculation that a potluck was the source of the outbreak. We have thoroughly investigated this claim, and there was no potluck that contributed to the outbreaks,” Woods told reporters.

However, he did acknowledge that there were breaches in PPE use during staff breaks and that physical distancing was not always maintained.

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

Woods said when many hospitals were designed years ago, like UH, they were not “designed contemplating the impact of a global pandemic,” adding that space is limited and they are in the process of identifying and maintaining places for staff to take their breaks.

“I am not assigning blame, our staff and physicians have been vigilant in safe patient care since day one but we are human, we are fallible and we are tried,” Woods said.

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Wood went on to say that ‘they never intended to cause harm’ and that their ‘sincerest condolences’ were with the families who lost loved ones.

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“We are doing everything in our power to keep this number from growing.”

The outbreak at UH which was initially declared on Nov. 10 currently impacts a total of six units at the facility, most recently 4TU Multi-Organ Transplant Unit and 6IP Cardiovascular Surgery, which were declared Nov. 27. Outbreaks in 6IP Acute/Decant Medicine, 9IP Sub-Acute Medicine and 10IP Palliative Care/Sub-Acute Medicine were all declared on Nov. 24.

The hospital was also the scene of a separate, smaller outbreak in 9IP Orthopedics that was declared Nov. 11. That outbreak, linked to six cases, is no longer active.

Dr. Payne told reporters that since the pandemic was declared they have implemented extensive staff and patient testing and masking, as well as work cohorts and staff quarantining.

Services have also been limited at the hospital to urgent and emergent ones only, with all patients admitted to the medical ward being transferred to Victoria hospital.

Dr. Payne said the disruption to services will likely continue throughout December.

“We have implemented many outbreak measures and are hopeful that over the coming two weeks we will see a reduction in cases and the ending of this outbreak,” Dr. Michael Payne said.

Read more: LHSC announces added measures to curb growing University Hospital COVID-19 outbreak

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Timeline of LHSC response

Nov. 10: 13th outbreak declared

  • routine outbreak measures put in place in partnership with MLHU
  • prevalence screening of all patients and affected staff
  • Four Inpatient Unit incident management teams initiated

Nov. 17: 2nd prevalence screening of all patients

  • four cases subsequently identified

Nov. 20:

  • all medicine inpatients masked

Nov. 22-Dec. 3: prevalence screening of all patients

  • eight cases subsequently identified

Nov. 23-25:

  • staff work quarantine direction received from Public Health
  • enhanced staff cohorting
  • outbreak extended to all medicine units at UH
  • all medicine admissions at UH discontinued

Nov. 26:

  • testing of all UH inpatients
    • all inpatients masked
  • Transplant Unit and 6-cardiac surgery placed on outbreak measures

Nov. 27 to Dec. 1:

  • visitor restrictions at UH for all units
  • test all UH clinical staff
  • test all patients on admission to UH
  • cohort staff and stop staff moving between UH and VH
  • restriction of community, social interactions for all clinical staff at UH
  • reduce scheduled procedures to urgent and emergent only
  • increased auditing of outbreak measures
  • UH Ambulatory Clinic reductions begin
    • Includes all ambulatory services and diagnostic services

–With files from Matthew Trevithick 

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