COVID-19 Outbreaks Declared on Two Units at St. Mary’s General Hospital

April 18th, 2020

St. Mary’s General Hospital, in consultation with Waterloo Region Public Health, has today declared outbreaks of COVID-19 on two units of the hospital after St. Mary’s identified a small cluster of cases and began an investigation. St. Mary’s is immediately taking additional safety measures, including enhanced cleaning of the areas, and closing its third floor unit to new admissions. All other services and care on other units at St. Mary’s are unaffected.

On the third floor unit one patient has tested positive for COVID-19 after what is believed to be patient-to-patient transmission. The affected patient was in a semi-private room with a patient who initially tested negative for COVID-19, and was later found to be COVID-positive after being readmitted with worsening symptoms. Also on this unit, one staff member has tested positive who potentially contracted the infection while providing care to the first patient.

On the sixth floor, an investigation of a small cluster of COVID-positive staff results led to a finding of staff-to-staff transmission between two staff. It has been determined that this transmission occurred in a common space and not in a direct patient care area. There is no evidence of staff-to-patient or patient-to-staff transmission. Admissions of patients to this unit will continue and staff will continue to wear appropriate PPE when caring for patients.

“The safety of our patients and staff is paramount,” said Lee Fairclough, President of St. Mary’s. “We have made this declaration out of an abundance of caution. COVID-19 has had an unprecedented requirement for our staff to wear protection and practice physical distancing in the workplace. The careful monitoring for clusters of cases of COVID-positive cases among our staff and patients led us to this investigation.”

St. Mary’s will be actively communicating with patients and/or family members of patients who are currently inpatients on the affected units, advising them of the outbreak and answering any questions.
Patients or families with questions can call St. Mary’s Patient Experience Office at 519-749-6578, ext. 6867. Anyone discharged from the third floor unit from April 2 to April 17 will be contacted by Waterloo Region Public Health.

“The two patients impacted by the patient-to-patient transmission are now being cared for on a unit with other COVID-positive patients and we wish them the very best in their recovery,” said Ms. Fairclough.

Staff who have tested positive are currently self-isolating at home and will be monitored by Waterloo Region Public Health and St. Mary’s Employee Health and Wellness staff. They will remain off work until they have two negative tests within 24 hours for COVID-19. “We wish staff a safe recovery and we are grateful for the commitment of our front-line healthcare workers through this pandemic,” she said. From March 19 to April 16, a total of 257 St. Mary’s staff and physicians have been tested for COVID-19 and 22 have tested positive. The majority of these cases are not work related,

The earliest that the outbreak on the sixth floor can be declared over is April 28 if no additional staff or patients test positive for COVID-19 during that period. The earliest the outbreak can be declared over on the third floor is April 30 if no additional staff or patients test positive for COVID-19 during that period.

“We want to reassure everyone that the care at St. Mary’s continues to be safe during the COVID-19 pandemic,” added Ms. Fairclough. “We continue to follow all official directives and public health guidance for COVID-19 and to reinforce staff and patient safety during this challenging time.”

Some of the measures at St. Mary’s to date that will be further emphasized and expanded upon include:

  • Enhanced screening for all individuals entering our hospital, including staff.
  • Initiating a no-visitor policy, except in exceptional circumstances.
  • Regular staff education and reminders on the use of personal protective equipment, physical distancing and hand hygiene.
  • Active surveillance to identify clusters and follow-up investigation. These cases were identified through that rigorous process.
  • Cleaning of high-touch surfaces in the hospital a minimum of four times per day.
  • Education of patients and families about the safety procedures of the hospital given enhanced precautions during COVID-19.
  • As part of ongoing risk assessments, continually reviewing our practices and implementing new measures as required.

“There are now more than 30 hospitals in Ontario which have declared COVID-19 outbreaks,” said Ms. Fairclough. “While there is not yet a clear definition for what constitutes outbreaks of COVID-19, declaring them in this situation demonstrates St. Mary’s commitment to the safety of our patients, staff and community.”

If you want to know more, please see our Outbreak Q & A – Patients and Families.

Anne Kelly
Manager of Communications