N.B. COVID-19 roundup: Higgs backtracks on ventilation as cause of hospital outbreaks

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N.B. COVID-19 roundup: Higgs backtracks on ventilation as cause of hospital outbreaks
© Government of New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs says people should feel safe going to a hospital and don’t need to worry about contracting COVID-19 while there.

Premier Blaine Higgs tried Wednesday to allay fears he created that ventilation systems caused the COVID-19 outbreaks at three of the province’s hospitals, and the Horizon Health Network issued a statement to set the record straight.

“There is no evidence that our hospital ventilation systems have, in any way, played a role in the transmission of COVID-19 among inpatients in any of our facilities,” Dr. Gordon Dow, Horizon’s regional infectious diseases medical director, wrote.

Horizon’s outbreak management team has identified “short range person-to-person transmission as the likely cause” of the outbreaks at the Moncton Hospital, the Saint John Regional Hospital and the Miramichi Regional Hospital.

Of the 47 people currently hospitalized with COVID-19, including 18 in intensive care, 10 were initially admitted for other reasons and contracted COVID-19 because of the outbreaks, Public Health said Tuesday. Most of these people are exhibiting “mild to moderate” symptoms, it said.

For two days, Higgs made statements in the legislature that indicated the hospitals’ ventilation systems had caused the outbreaks.

Then, on Wednesday afternoon, he told reporters he has asked the CEOs of the Horizon and Vitalité health networks to issue a statement to “identify the actual situations and what caused them and what remedies they’ve done.

But “as I understand, it wasn’t like the entire hospital ventilation, it wasn’t at all,” he said.

“It was actual procedures that were being administered within a hospital setting — in a room, or in a ward.”

Asked whether he was referring to ventilators, he said, “With ventilators, or aspirators, or a situation like that. But the health authorities will clarify that.”

Just hours earlier, in response to a question from Jean-Claude d’Amours, the Liberal MLA for Edmundston-Madawaska Centre, Higgs indicated to the legislature that health officials told him the hospital outbreaks were linked to ventilation.

“I can’t speak to the technicalities of it, Mr Speaker, but I can speak that there was a situation that determined that there was a spread through airborne spread and ventilation and that was corrected in both networks,” he said.

“The health authorities have told us that they went through their protocols in relation to patients with COVID and treated them with ventilators and how to minimize the kind of, the airborne diffusion of the virus. And that was learned through different hospitals in the province and similar situations. And then it was implemented in Vitalité and later implemented in Horizon,” said Higgs.

“So I think the message here today, Mr. Speaker, is simply that the health authorities have implemented changes to their protocols. They feel very comfortable now, and as their patients should feel comfortable that when they come to the hospital, for whatever reason, they should be safe and not have to worry about any infection of COVID.”

D’Amours said it was “shocking and inexcusable” that the government was “idly watching” as the outbreaks occurred.

“Will the premier publicly and transparently state exactly how many citizens [have] fallen ill with COVID because of the ventilation system in our hospitals?”

“Will the premier be transparent and tell us exactly how many New Brunswickers have died as a result of the outbreaks in our hospitals?”

He also demanded to know where else in the province ventilation systems have been identified as a cause of transmission.

Higgs replied that he’s not a medical professional, but said he will ask the Horizon and Vitalité CEOs to “communicate in effective manner to the public so that they can be assured that this has been addressed.”

Video: Ontario expands eligibility for COVID-19 booster shot to residents 50+ (Global News)

Vitalité officials could not immediately be reached for comment.

As of last Friday, the last update provided by Horizon, 30 patients and seven staff have tested positive for COVID-19 in connection with the outbreaks on the Moncton Hospital‘s family medicine and palliative care unit, Unit 3600, rehabilitation unit, Unit 4400, stroke and family medicine unit, Unit 4600, and family practice and geriatric unit, Unit 5100. 

Outbreaks at the Saint John Regional Hospital’s orthopedic surgery (3CS) and internal medicine (4CN) units stand at two, and one patient has tested positive in connection with the outbreak at the Miramichi Regional Hospital‘s intensive care unit and family practice unit (2 West).

D’Amours said his biggest fears were confirmed Tuesday when Higgs first mentioned ventilation was connected to the hospital outbreaks in response to his question about whether New Brunswick is “losing ground” in dealing with the fourth wave of the pandemic and what the COVID projections are following the Christmas holidays.

“In some hospitals, we had an outbreak of COVID cases in the hospital itself and that has been addressed by Horizon and Vitalité. So that is under control,” replied Higgs.

“They discovered the problem and talked about the ventilation in hospitals and what was causing that outbreak. They found that and they fixed it. So people should not be afraid to go to the hospital if they have other issues and afraid that they might get COVID while they’re there.”

For weeks, the government, Minister of Health Dorothy Shephard and premier remained silent on the issue and never informed the public, said d’Amours.

Public Health reported 69 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday.

Forty-seven people are hospitalized with COVID-19, including 18 in intensive care. Eleven of them are on ventilators.

There are 752 active cases across the province.

As of Tuesday, 82 per cent of eligible New Brunswickers were fully vaccinated against COVID-19, and 87.6 per cent had received their first dose.

New Brunswick has had 8,938 confirmed cases of COVID-19 throughout the pandemic and 8,049 recoveries so far and 136 deaths.

A total of 570,657 tests have been conducted to date.

The province listed a number of potential COVID-19 public exposure notices on Wednesday, including a bowling alley, Costco and Lions Club in the Saint John region, Zone 2, and sports complex, a fitness centre and a barber shop in the Fredericton region, Zone 3.

For the full list of public exposure notices, visit the provincial government’s website.

People who have not been fully vaccinated at least 14 days prior to a possible exposure and who have symptoms should get a COVID lab test. They can book an appointment online or call Tele-Care 811 and must isolate while waiting for their test result.

People who are not fully vaccinated and do not have symptoms are now being instructed to pick up an At-Home COVID-19 Rapid Point of Care Test (Rapid POCT) screening kit. They do not need to isolate if they have not been directed by Public Health to do so.

All positive point-of-care test results must be confirmed with a laboratory polymerase chain reaction, or PCR, test.

It can take up to 14 days to test positive after being exposed to COVID-19, so even if results come back negative, people should continue to self-monitor for any symptoms and get tested immediately if any develop.

They should also avoid visiting settings with vulnerable populations, such as nursing homes, correctional facilities and shelters during that 14-day period.

For people who have been fully vaccinated at least 14 days prior to a possible exposure, Public Health recommends they monitor for symptoms for 14 days after the possible exposure and get a COVID lab test if symptoms develop.

They do not need to isolate while they wait for their test results.

If they do not have symptoms, they can pick up a rapid test kit and do not need to isolate.

People concerned they might have COVID-19 can take a self-assessment test online.

Public Health says symptoms of the illness have included a fever above 38 C, a new or worsening cough, sore throat, runny nose, headache, a new onset of fatigue and difficulty breathing.

In children, symptoms have also included purple markings on the fingers and toes.

People with one of those symptoms should stay at home, call 811 or their doctor and follow instructions.

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