Source of Island hospital outbreaks unclear, as 'unchecked transmission' continues in B.C.

Patients affected by COVID-19 outbreaks at two Island hospitals have been transferred to pandemic-designated acute-care facilities, as a second-wave surge hits Vancouver Island. Twenty of 834 new cases announced in B.C. Wednesday were in the Island Health region.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said while there’s been a leveling off of cases in the Fraser Health and Vancouver Coastal Health regions, the north of the province, the Interior “and to a lesser extent” the Island have seen rapid growth.

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There are now 8,941 active cases in the province, including 264 in the Island Health region — 156 in the central Island, 67 in the south and 41 in the north. Of 337 people in hospital with COVID-19 in the province, 79 are in intensive or critical care. In Island Health, 14 are in hospital and five are in critical care.

“We are continuing to see unchecked transmission in many places despite our efforts,” Henry said. “That is why during this second surge, the need to follow provincial health orders is so important.”

Saanich Peninsula Hospital and West Coast General Hospital in Port Alberni both reported outbreaks this week.

As of Wednesday, one staff and five patients had tested positive for COVID-19 at Saanich Peninsula Hospital. Units involved included acute-care and palliative care, but given the small size of the hospital, the entire acute-care facility is under outbreak status.

The health care worker who tested positive is self isolating, while two patients were discharged to recover at home, and three were transferred to Royal Jubilee Hospital, a COVID-19 designated hospital, said Elin Bjarnason, vice-president of clinical operations for Island Health’s south region. Testing of patients and staff continues.

On Wednesday, contact tracers had found “no clear pattern” of transmission — whether the infections occurred in the community or in hospital or whether staff transmitted it to patients or vice versa, said Bjarnason, noting the infected health care worker did not have contact with all of the patients.

“Based on the number of [infected] patients we have, it seems likely that there is some sort of spread within the hospital,” said Bjarnason.

Saanich Peninsula Hospital’s emergency department is open, but anyone who needs to be admitted is being transferred to Victoria General Hospital unless they require specialized care at Royal Jubilee Hospital.

There are no known cases of COVID-19 at the adjacent Saanich Peninsula Hospital long-term care home, said Bjarnason.

The outbreak at West Coast General Hospital in Port Alberni was declared after evidence of transmission in the medical-surgical B-wing.

One staff member and one patient tested positive for COVID-19. The unit is closed to admissions and visitors. The health care worker is isolating at home, while the patient was transferred to Nanaimo Regional General Hospital, one of three COVID-19 designated sites. Test results came back negative on Wednesday for nine patients in the unit and staff identified by contact tracers.

“It’s much more contained at West Coast,” said Bjarnason, though the source of transmission has not yet been verified.

In both outbreaks, Island Health says it has implemented precautions, including enhanced cleaning and contact tracing, infection control, testing and personal protective equipment.

On Wednesday, Henry again asked B.C. residents not to hold social gatherings, to stick to essential travel only and to wear masks in all indoor public spaces and retail and office spaces.

“I know these restrictions put an added burden on what is an already difficult time for all of us, and it seems never ending as we’re moving into December, but they are what is required right now,” said Henry.

The order banning social gatherings is in place until at least Monday. An order prohibiting indoor high-intensity sports activities is in place indefinitely, said Henry.

Henry said she’s reviewing with epidemiologists which restrictions are working, and will speak to those findings on Monday.

Twelve more people have died of COVID-19, for a total of 469 in the province to date.

Across B.C. there are 529 new cases in Fraser Health, 174 in Vancouver Coastal, 66 in Interior Health, 45 in Northern Health.

As for those flouting COVID orders, Henry said: “It really makes you angry to see all these small groups of people who are trying to make a point that is misguided.” She insisted, however, that kindness is the way forward, “because that is what’s going to get us through as a community.

ceharnett@timescolonist.com

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