Union questions claim of no link between six COVID-19 cases among Laval hospital staff

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Marie-Eve Despatie-Gagnon, a spokeswoman for the health authority, said three doctors and three other employees who work in the emergency room at the Cite-de-la-Sante Hospital have tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

There is no outbreak in the hospital's emergency room, Despatie-Gagnon said, adding that no emergency room patients got the virus from any of the workers.

The health authority said that community transmission is to blame for some of the cases, and it maintains that there is no link between any of the six.

The rate of community transmission in Laval is currently very high, she said.

But Jean-Francois Houle, the vice-president of the union that represents a variety of workers at the health authority, including orderlies, questions the claim that the cases are the result of community transmission.

"The story that it's community transmission, I don't believe it at all," he said in a phone interview Saturday.

Houle said there are almost 70 patients at the hospital, not counting those in a designated "red zone" for COVID-19 cases, who have the virus.

Houle, an orderly by profession, said there are COVID-19 patients on three floors of the hospital and in the emergency room,

"If I have 12 patients on a floor who have COVID-19." he said, "you can't say it's not an outbreak."

Despatie-Gagnon said in an email that there are currently two COVID-19 outbreaks in the hospital. One consists of two patients and three employees, the other involves 10 patients and four employees.

An outbreak is defined as at least two cases with an epidemiological link between them, she said.

Houle said union members are worried about getting the virus and fear passing it on to their families.

He said orderlies are still being moved between "green zones" and "red zones" in the hospital's emergency room and that workers still don't have the proper equipment.

Houle said the union has asked for N95 masks and while the health authority has 400,000 of the masks in a warehouse they're not being distributed to members.

The health authority is following the recommendations of Quebec's national public health institute for distributing personal protective equipment, including N95 masks, Despatie-Gagnon said, and all workers have the recommended equipment.

Houle said he believes there are more cases among healthcare workers in Laval. He said 72 orderlies alone are currently awaiting the results of COVID-19 tests.

Around 3,000 non-symptomatic health-care workers in Laval are tested for COVID-19 every week, Despatie-Gagnon said, and workers at the Cite-de-la-Sante emergency room are being tested three times per week -- a practice that will continue until Jan. 8 -- as a preventative measure.

As of Thursday, the most recent date for which data is available, there were 1,944 active cases of COVID-19 in Laval, or 439 per 100,000 people, the highest level in Quebec.

There were 262 active cases per 100,000 people across the province as of Thursday.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 2, 2021.

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This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

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