Calgary Foothills Medical Center coronavirus outbreak kills four, returns dozens

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The Foothills Medical Center in Calgary, Alberta is seen on April 1, 2020.

Jeff McIntosh / The Canadian Press

Calgary Foothills Medical Center postponed dozens of surgeries on Monday and restricted all visitors except essential ones after Canada’s largest hospital outbreak of COVID-19 spread to five units, killing four people and sickening 53 others.

Alberta’s largest hospital has postponed 39 procedures due to staff shortages and a reduction in available hospital beds, medical director Peter Jamieson told reporters. But he said there were no plans to close other services in Foothills, the province’s main center for high-risk obstetrics and trauma and stroke.

“I want people to know that if they need the emergency department they have to come,” Dr. Jamieson said. “We are here for you.”

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Health investigators are trying to trace the source of the outbreaks, which began 10 days ago in a general practice ward and have since spread to four other units. Three other units were placed on a watch list.

In addition to the 27 health workers who tested positive for the virus, 136 have been forced into isolation, including surgical staff. Foothills has asked staff working on the affected units to get tested every five days for the virus until the outbreaks are under control. Alberta’s top doctor has blocked Foothills staff who work in two of the affected units – 81 and 71 – from working at other medical sites in an attempt to limit transmission.

A majority of the 26 patients who have tested positive for the coronavirus are in two cardiac departments, including an intensive care unit, Dr Jamieson said. He said he believed there was a link between outbreaks in the heart units, which work closely together. “We are still investigating other outbreaks.”

Cameron Perrier said his grandfather was among the four patients who died. He said health officials had not proactively informed the family of the outbreak or that their 82-year-old patriarch tested positive for COVID-19.

Instead, Mr Perrier’s family learned of the diagnosis when his grandfather called them from the hospital on September 20 to say he had tested positive for the virus. He died three days later. Mr Perrier’s grandmother – the wife of his late grandfather who visited her husband in the hospital – has since tested positive for COVID-19.

“What kills – forgive the pun – is the fact that we were kind of left in the dark,” said Perrier, a reporter from Toronto who had to say goodbye to his grandfather in the morning. phone. “The hospital is supposed to be a place where people go to get better. This is not a place where you are supposed to go to die of COVID-19. “

Glen Sumner, a cardiologist at Foothills, said he was surprised to learn of the outbreaks in the heart units. Dr Sumner said he performed surgery on two patients who tested positive. “Their symptoms didn’t start until after the surgery,” he said in an interview. He himself tested negative.

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Anmol Kapoor, a Calgary cardiologist, said the freezing of some admissions to the Foothills cardiology unit left patients short of access to procedures such as angiograms and bypass surgery, except for emergencies.

“This is a major problem because heart patients are the sickest patients in medicine,” he said. “It’s the only heart center in southern Alberta.

Kerry Williamson, an AHS spokesperson, noted that Foothills has multiple cardiac units and only Unit 81 is closed to admissions.

Foothills hopes to postpone postponed operations within seven days, Dr Jamieson said.

The number of hospitals in Canada with a COVID-19 outbreak is significantly lower than it was in the spring. Three hospitals in British Columbia and two in Ontario have outbreaks. In Quebec, 37 employees tested positive at the Heart and Lung Institute, a specialized cardio-pulmonary hospital affiliated with Laval University in Quebec. No patient was affected, said Institute spokesperson Valérie Lefrançois.

Foothills is the second major hospital outbreak in Alberta. The province declared an outbreak at Edmonton’s Misericordia Community Hospital in late June. The facility, which is run by Covenant Health, has stopped admitting patients to stem the spread. Eleven people have died from the outbreak, which has infected 24 staff and 34 patients.

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Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, said Monday that health officials had halted admissions to Misericordia hospital in part because they could not identify how the virus was spreading in the facility at the start of this epidemic. This is not the case in Foothills, she said.

“At the Foothills, I understand there is a pretty clear link between the majority, if not all, of the cases that have been identified,” she told reporters. Dr Hinshaw did not elaborate on the links.

She said it was “concerning” that COVID-19 had spread to more units in Foothills, but attributed this to “aggressive” contact tracing and regular screening of people potentially exposed to the virus. She hopes the investigation will uncover more positive cases in the facility.

“I have confidence in the team that is managing this epidemic.”

Dr Hinshaw said 63 people were in Alberta hospitals with COVID-19, and 15 of them were in the ICU.

With a report from Tu Thanh Ha

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