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COVID cases in healthcare staff raising concern

Three lab workers from within Lakeridge Health Oshawa have tested positive for COVID-19.

By Chris Jones/The Oshawa Express

Reports have indicated the number of Oshawa healthcare staff testing positive for COVID-19 is increasing, leaving some concerned.

An anonymous source from within Lakeridge Health Oshawa has reached out to The Oshawa Express to share concerns over the organization’s ability to protect workers from COVID-19 after three lab workers have tested positive for the virus. However,  hospital officials maintain they are doing all that can be done, having placed stringent safety protocols for staff and implemented many other safety considerations.

According to the source, three phlebotomists, who collect blood, have tested positive for COVID-19 at the Oshawa site.

“They have all been collecting blood work on all patients, including COVID floors,” the source states.

The workers interact with a lot of patients throughout the hospital, and will even work in the cancer centre while wearing surgical masks and gloves at all times, and gowns and face masks when interacting with patients who have tested positive, says the source. The lab has always ascribed to universal precautions, and has assumed all biological samples are infectious, which requires workers to wear the proper amount of personal protective equipment (PPE).

However the source believes this is insufficient protection.

“Many of us feel the science is still evolving, and were there not a shortage of personal protective equipment, N95 masks would be the recommendation,” adding that health care workers have a much higher infection rate than the general public.

The source suggests the employees acquired the virus while performing their jobs, since most of the infected have been self isolating.

“They collect blood from COVID-positive patients and are limiting their interaction in the community because of it. Some even order groceries online,” the source notes, adding that Lakeridge Health should disclose this information to the public.

“They have to declare an outbreak when one patient and a staff member test positive, but when three from the lab test positive, they don’t,” says the source. “[The lab workers are] not assigned to floors or patients, so they don’t have to report it.”

When The Express reached out to Lakeridge Health Oshawa, spokesperson Sharon Navarro said in a statement the hospital has seen a total of 36 positive tests from employees as of May 15.

In total, the hospital believes 14 of these are occupationally-acquired, while 22 are community-acquired.

However, Navarro notes the hospital is unable to break down the information further due to privacy reasons.

In the statement, Navarro explains the hospital has taken a number of precautions to protect employees and patients, including screening at all entrances, a universal all-mask policy, mandatory eye protection for all patient-facing encounters, and education, promotion and support for proper hand hygiene.

The hospital has also placed restrictions on visitors, while ensuring a comprehensive exposure assessment and contact tracing for team members, a promotion of physical distancing, as well as continuous communication.

OPSEU Chair Hospital Professionals Division Sara-Jane Labelle told The Express she is also concerned by the rise of cases seen in healthcare workers, and the shortage of PPE supplies.

“We are all trying to adapt to a world where we have shortages, which has been driving decision making versus all of the health and safety and infection control videos that we all have to review yearly,” she says.

She notes it’s been an extremely challenging time for everyone in the healthcare field as they see photos from other countries which show the level of protection they’re using compared to what’s being used in Canada.

“We are being told it is not airborne and that the masking policy put in place by [Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams] is adequate, and yet we are seeing the number of staff infections creeping up,” says Labelle.

She adds the number of infections are rising in areas where surgical masks are being used as well.

“In an ideal world with no shortages, we know people would be able to use N95 masks as needed without justifying the request,” she says.

She adds when SARS hit Ontario, Lakeridge’s policy was for all staff to wear N95 masks.

To better protect workers, Labelle believes the hospital can ensure staff have better access to PPE and can make sure all staff are aware of where they can get more should they have to change their PPE.