Unscreened hospital potluck could have led to 112 COVID infections and 12 deaths

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Canadian health authorities are investigating the transfer of personnel to personnel following a COVID 19 outbreak at University Hospital in London, Ontario, which spread to six units.

London Health Sciences Centre (LHSC) officials reported that by Friday, 64 patients and 48 staff had tested positive for COVID-19 during the outbreak – a total of 112 cases. In addition, 12 deaths were linked to the outbreak.

For the first time, the Middlesex-London Health Unit (MLHU) reported an outbreak on the fourth floor of the University Hospital’s General Practice Department on November 10th. One day later, the outbreak had spread to the orthopaedic department on the ninth floor.

By November 24, the outbreak had spread to three more wards, and the hospital did not accept new admissions on the four floors. An additional 24 beds in a nearby hospital were provided to compensate for the reduced capacity of the university hospital.

But three days later, the outbreak spread to a fifth floor and another ward on the first fourth floor of the hospital. All non-essential operations and procedures at the University Hospital were cancelled, and the LHSC stopped most outpatient appointments and banned visitors with few exceptions.

LHSC’s Chief Physician, Adam Dukelow, is now dealing with unchecked reports of a potluck by staff that may have led to the deadly outbreak.

“As soon as we were made aware of this, (our team) initiated an investigation,” Dukelow said at a press conference on Wednesday. “Similarly, our colleagues in the health unit are investigating, but we have no further information to confirm that at any time there was a potluck that could be related to the outbreak, but we are actively investigating it.

“The last thing we need right now are super dissemination events dressed as holiday traditions,” said MLHU’s Medical Officer for Health, Dr Chris Mackie.

“Employers in particular need to create online events to mark the holidays for their employees if they don’t want their workplaces to become outbreak zones,” he added.

Dukelow also said that transmission between employees in hospital break rooms, where they should wear masks, is probably a factor in the outbreak. He said his team actively monitors each hospital department three times per shift to ensure 100% compliance by staff.

On Monday, the chief physician said that hospital staff who have been fighting the virus since the beginning of the pandemic are struggling with fatigue, which could lead to them slipping when wearing personal protective equipment.

Two weeks ago, LHSC President Paul Woods scolded hospital staff in an internal email for not following public health recommendations during breaks. He warned that there would be consequences, up to and including dismissal, if things continued like this.

Additional break rooms were opened to facilitate social distance between employees, who now have to stay in certain stables or units to restrict movement within the hospital.

The Mayor of Ontario, Ed Holder, said in a statement in London on Wednesday that the outbreak “serves as a harrowing reminder of the possibility of tragic consequences if public health guidelines are not followed.

By Thursday, Ontario had reported over 121,000 COVID-19 cases and more than 3,700 deaths.

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