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A COVID-19 outbreak has been declared at the Pembroke Regional Hospital after a second staff member tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

In a press release, the hospital said the outbreak has been contained to personnel in the emergency department. The positive test result that triggered the outbreak has been linked to the positive staff case identified on Dec. 27.

"Once again we want to assure our community that our hospital, and in particular, our Emergency Department, remains a safe place to come to for medical care due to the safety measures we have in place to protect our patients, visitors, staff and physicians," said hospital President and CEO Pierre Noel.

Noel said no patients have been identified as high risk contacts of the COVID-19 positive staff members. 

Speaking on Newstalk 580 CFRA on Saturday, Noel said more than two dozen staff members were tested after the first case was identified, but only one positive result has come back.

"Any staff members who were in contact with that primary case have been identified either as high-risk or low-risk contacts. All of those contacts have been tested and are directed to self-isolate at home until they're cleared to come back to work," he said.

Noel said the Upper Ottawa Valley has been fortunate because COVID-19 has not been widespread in the area, though this outbreak does show that the pandemic is everywhere.

"While we haven't seen a lot of cases in the Upper Ottawa Valley or at our hospital, the preparation is the same everywhere," he said. "The diligence in putting on personal protective equipment properly, taking it off properly, all of the distancing guidance and protocols about not gathering in common areas; that wears on people. I think it's safe to say that we're all tired of following these protocols but it's essential that we continue until we have some protection from the vaccine."

Noel said he expects health-care workers in Renfrew County to be vaccinated early on in the region's eventual vaccine rollout, but acknowledged that other parts of the province, where COVID-19 is more prevalent, may get their shots first.

"We anticipate that our staff will be part of an early effort in getting out vaccines, but we're still in a green zone, so I think it's safe to assume there are priority areas, particularly in southern Ontario, that would call on that vaccine first to control the situation there," he said.

Noel thanked residents of Renfrew County for their hard work in following protocols and keeping the COVID-19 pandemic under control in the region.

According to the hospital, Dr. Robert Cushman, acting medical officer of health for the Renfrew County and District Health Unit, confirmed that the hospital conducted a thorough assessment of all patient contacts in the emergency department and that there were no breaches in protocols.

In a press release, he said that he and his team continue to work with the hospital to complete the investigation and bring the outbreak to a close. 

“I want to assure the public that the PRH Emergency Department is safe and that there is absolutely no reason to stay away in the event that you need medical care,” Dr. Cushman said.