Calgary obstetrician sees concern in COVID-19 exemption, but says rules are in place

After details of a COVID-19 exemption order in place for certain groups of people at labour and delivery wards in Alberta hospitals came to light, one doctor says precautions are in place to prevent any danger.

Back in July, Alberta's top doctor Dr. Deena Hinshaw signed an exemption order for "essential support persons" for obstetrical patients, allowing them access to a hospital facility, even if they were symptomatic or tested positive for COVID-19.

Dr. Stephanie Cooper, a high-risk obstetrician at Foothills Medical Centre in Calgary, says she understands how people could be concerned about the document as it's written.

However, she says that the protections put in place by Alberta Health Services are effective at preventing any problems from occurring.

"As written, I can understand and would think it means that COVID-positive support people are allowed to come up to the labour and delivery unit and be present there as well as in the post-partum unit just as, sort of, the general rule – as the norm," she told CTV News in an interview on Sunday. "That is not actually what happens."

Cooper also said that the idea of COVID-19 patients sharing a room with post-partum patients who are COVID-negative isn't true either.

She says she also received a letter recently that emphasized the fact that "exceptional circumstances" must exist before an exemption is granted.

"They would require high level approval from infection, prevention and control as well as site administration.

"So, it does say there is a possibility but, in practically, in my experience I have not seen that happen except in one exception."

Cooper said that occurred when a patient was delivering at the hospital. While admitted, they developed symptoms, were swabbed and was found to be COVID-positive.

"The support person is not sent home at that point, even though they are considered to be a close contact of someone with COVID."

'VERY ROBUST' HEALTH PROTOCOLS

Cooper says staff her field are "overly cautious" when it comes to the symptoms of COVID-19 appearing in patients on the unit.

If someone even develops a fever, the support person and anybody in the room is automatically assumed to have COVID and that room is made into an isolation room, she said.

"The support person is not allowed to leave the room and then we wait to get the swab back," she said. "After this length of time – 18 plus months – we have very robust PPE requirements in the sense of the doffing and the donning that if we're going in and taking care of a COVID person, the staff is taking off their PPE and is not going to take it from one room to the next."

However, there is the possibility for unvaccinated families to be in the same room as vaccinated families, Cooper says. They could also be in close contact with each other in common areas throughout medical facilities.

"That does happen, but not if anybody is symptomatic. If anybody is symptomatic or known to have COVID, then they are placed in isolation rooms."

Cooper says the exemption was also drafted several months ago, before the fourth wave hit Alberta.

"The reason that Deena Hinshaw wrote that letter probably came about weeks prior to that, before even delta was on the horizon.

"In early July, we were seeing cases that were very few in the community and we hadn't really recognized how contagious delta was and delta does make people sicker, especially post-partum women."