By Matthew McCully
A group of CIUSSS de l’Estrie-CHUS doctors are calling on the government to strengthen testing regulations for unvaccinated health workers following an outbreak of COVID-19 in the hematology and oncology unit of the Fleurimont hospital.
Sixteen patients and seven employees were infected, and four and people died as a result of the outbreak.
The outbreak began on May 20, but came to light Wednesday when a group of Sherbrooke doctors penned an open letter encouraging healthcare workers to get vaccinated, and asking that the Ministry of Health and Social Services impose more stringent testing for those who choose not to get the vaccine. According to excerpts from the letter, published in Le Devoir, the doctors felt compelled to alert the government to the fact that there is transmission happening in hospitals, possibly by workers who are not vaccinated and not being tested.
There is a ministerial order in effect, adopted on April 9, for health workers to either be vaccinated or submit to regular testing, but it applies only to staff working in emergency rooms, intensive care, pneumology, COVID units or specialized COVID-19 clinics, in CHSLDs and other residential units. It does not include oncology units, which has patients with compromised immune systems, the letter from the doctors explains.
According to the letter, the hematology and oncology unit of the hospital is considered a safe zone, meaning patients have to test negative before being admitted, suggesting the virus was contracted within the walls of the hospital. And based on the level of transmission, it was likely through a staff member since patients and visitors don’t travel from room to room.
The group of doctors called on the government to modify the ministerial order to make it mandatory for non-vaccinated health workers in oncology units to submit to testing a minimum of three times per week.
The CIUSSS de l’Estrie-CHUS released a statement saying the situation is under control and there have been no new cases of COVID-19 in the oncology department in the last 10 days. The hospital will also do a mass screening in the department on June 11, the 14th day following the outbreak. If all results are negative, the outbreak will be considered over.
The CIUSSS de l’Estrie – CHUS statement added that it encourages all members of its internal community (employees, physicians, managers, etc.) to be vaccinated.
During Wednesday’s press briefing with Estrie public health media asked what percentage of health workers were vaccinated. While saying the percentage of staff covered by the ministerial order was 95.5 per cent, the response from the health authority was that data on the number of members of our internal community vaccinated is only available for the wards covered by the order.
Quebec reported 178 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday. There are currently 2,274 active cases in the province. Eight new deaths were reported, bringing the total since the beginning of the pandemic to 11,164. Hospitalizations decreased by six for a total of 257, and the patients in intensive care remained stable at 60.
Two new cases were reported in Estrie, bringing the number of local active cases to 144. Two new deaths were reported, bringing the total in the region to 350 since the beginning of the pandemic.
To date, 66.3 per cent of the Estrie population has received at least one dose of vaccine and 7.5 per cent has received two doses.
According to the data on the CIUSSS de l’Estrie-CHUS website, 86.1 per cent of health workers in the region have received at least one dose of vaccine.