An outbreak of COVID-19 in the cancer and general surgery units of The Moncton Hospital has now infected 14 patients and 11 staff members, and is delaying treatment for some patients.
The executive director of the hospital, Christa Wheeler-Thorne, told reporters on Tuesday that further spread has been mitigated, but the two units are essentially under lockdown. There is limited traffic in those areas, and no new admissions or transfers are taking place.
“These protocols proved to be very solid,” she said, adding that the outbreak was “under control.”
She noted that there have been no deaths related to this particular outbreak, which is the third at the hospital since September, and that no one is “exhibiting severe symptoms.”
Most of the patients and staff, she added, have been vaccinated but she could not provide exact numbers.
Wheeler-Thorne said so far, 23 elective surgeries have had to be postponed.
As for the source of the cases, Dr. Gordon Dow, an infectious disease consultant at The Moncton Hospital, said it likely came from a visitor.
After that point, the virus spread.
“The two floors are likely linked. So what happened is that an asymptomatic patient on one floor was transferred to another floor,” he said.
“The take-home point is that Delta variant is very infectious and it can transmit very quickly through communal settings. “
While oncology patients are at high risk of complications from COVID-19, Dow said the “good news” is that a high proportion of the patients have been vaccinated.
“Interestingly, despite being sick with other underlying conditions like cancer, most of those patients are doing well,” he said.
Delayed treatment for some patients
Lisa Collins from Kouchibouguac, N.B. spent the weekend in the general surgery unit at the hospital just over a week ago, and was shocked to get a call from Public Health last Tuesday saying she had been exposed to COVID-19.
“They did say that I was in very close contact, so I don’t know what that means,” she told Global News.
Collins had to immediately self-isolate for 14 days and get tested for COVID-19. Her hormone treatment for neuroendocrine tumors had to be delayed by almost a week, as she isolates.
“This is scary because obviously you want to have your treatments on time,” she said.
Her doctors have assured her that delaying treatment by a few days is not a problem, but she remains nervous because she was previously told that the treatments should be 28 days apart and no more than three days on either side of that date.
Collins has received one negative COVID-19 test and must undergo another test before her isolation is complete this coming Sunday.
She has only had one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine because she had a reaction to that first shot, and Collins said her oncologist advised her to hold off on the second dose as a precaution.
Colins now plans to get her second dose as soon as she is out of isolation.
What could have been done differently
Dow said they won’t declare the outbreak at the hospital over until two viral cycles — in other words 28 days — have passed with no new infections.
Once 14 days has passed with no transmission, some restrictions will be lifted.
The hospital, along with other facilities in Horizon Network, restricted visitation as of Oct. 8 due to rising cases in the community.
In hindsight, Dow said he wished they had done so earlier.
“I think that’s the biggest thing I would have done differently,” he said.
He noted, however, that outbreaks in hospitals are not unexpected when virus activity is high in the surrounding community.
As for what the hospital could have done to prevent this particular outbreak, Wheeler-Thorne said they will be taking a closer look at their protocols.
“These are the types of questions we’ll be asking ourselves in the coming weeks,” she said.
–With a file from Shelley Steeves