A long-term care unit at the King Edward VII Memorial Hospital has been locked down after a patient and a staff member tested positive for the novel coronavirus.
Health minister Kim Wilson told a press conference yesterday that a staff member on Gordon Ward tested positive for Covid-19 earlier this week.
She said: “Consequently, Gordon Ward has been put on quarantine, although all patients were tested this week and all were negative. They will be retested again, including the staff, by the weekend, just in case any were pre-symptomatic when they were tested.”
Michael Ashton, Chief of Medicine at the Bermuda Hospitals Board, added: “We are gravely concerned about the developments on Gordon.
Dr Ashton added: “Through the standard protocols of testing, we identified one patient that was asymptomatic but positive, as that patient was being transferred from one ward to another, and that then precipitated an aggressive work-up of the rest of the ward.”
He said Gordon Ward was placed under quarantine, with no admissions or visitors allowed, and testing of healthcare workers and contact tracing was done.
Dr Ashton said: “Thus far we have had all of the residents tested and there are no other patients, residents, that have been tested as positive.
“That’s gratifying. Nevertheless we did identify through testing that one healthcare worker, whether related or not, also being asymptomatic, was tested positive and we are in the process of receiving all the test results.”
Dr Ashton, an infectious disease specialist, continued: “Thus far out of the 26 tests for healthcare workers on that ward, only that one individual has tested positive, but we are about 50 per cent through receiving all of the remaining test results and that should be available in the next 24 hours.”
He added: “We take this very seriously and given these findings, and also the increased capacity of testing that’s available on the island, we will be strategically testing all healthcare workers going forward on a regular basis ... we will be starting with high-risk healthcare workers that are at the bedside ...”
The news means five BHB workers have so far been found to have the coronavirus. BHB said on Tuesday it had drawn up a schedule to start regular Covid-19 screening of all frontline staff, with those working in long-term care first in the queue.
A spokeswoman told The Royal Gazette: “BHB has had mandatory testing for many weeks for staff who have had an exposure to Covid-19 or symptoms.
“There has also been voluntary testing for staff through the Southside facility for some weeks, although we do not know the total number who have attended.
“With increased testing capacity now available, BHB is developing a programme of regularly testing staff, prioritising front-facing patient care services.”
The spokeswoman added: “We have prepared a schedule and are working with the Department of Health on the process.”
She said the first to be tested were about 120 staff on Gordon ward and the other two long-term care units, Perry and Cooper wards, at KEMH.
The spokeswoman said: “We will move on to dialysis and long-term care services at the Mid-Atlantic Wellness Institute, including group homes, then follow a phased programme, based on risk to patients and staff.
“This is being undertaken as BHB plans to support a safe care environment through the ongoing pandemic and, looking ahead, restart certain routine services that are needed by the community.”
The spokeswoman reiterated that testing for “all patient admissions and in-hospital transfers” had been done since the start of April.
She said: “We have had two asymptomatic patients test positive when tested before a transfer within BHB — one before a transfer out of an acute care ward and one being transferred out of long-term care to an acute ward for an unrelated matter.
“The patient positive tests have already been reported in government statistics. One would have been included over the last week and the other from early in May.
“This has resulted in the mandated testing of potentially exposed staff, though not all results have been reported yet. The officially reported tests to date were negative.”
The spokeswoman said testing of all residents in Gordon, Perry and Cooper wards — about 100 people — was recently completed and the results were all negative.
She added: “Dialysis patients — 121 individuals — will be tested next as a high-risk area, followed by long-term care areas and group homes at MWI, [which have] about 108 residents.”
The MWI long-term care units are Devon Lodge and Reid Ward.
Testing of staff and residents in the BHB’s long-term care facilities comes weeks after the Ministry of Health ordered testing at all 21 of the island’s residential homes for seniors.
Ms Wilson said on May 6 she did not know if BHB staff were required to be tested for the coronavirus or how many had been tested because it was beyond her remit.
On May 11, she was asked if she would order testing at the BHB’s long-term care units, as was done for the 21 residential homes.
Ms Wilson said: “I meet with the hospital regularly ... I am satisfied that the protocols that the hospital has established with respect to their testing regime are satisfactory.
“It is certainly something that is discussed and I am also satisfied that if the circumstances warrant a review of that particular protocol, that the hospital will do just that and then they’ll inform me accordingly.”
She said all patients admitted to the hospital since April 1 had been tested for Covid-19 and extending that to long-term care patients was being considered.
The BHB has about 1,800 employees, including about 118 doctors, 420 nurses, 200 nurses’ aides and 30 emergency medical technicians.
Frontline staff includes those in physiotherapy, occupational help and speech pathology, as well as dietitians, social workers, phlebotomists, diagnostic imaging technicians and pharmacists.
Housekeeping and dietary staff also work in patient areas and rooms, as do facilities and maintenance employees.
The board spokeswoman said: “Given the potential for asymptomatic spread of Covid-19, BHB continues to require the use of personal protective equipment in all patient encounters appropriate for the type of care provided, and the wearing of masks in all communal and public areas for staff and patients.
“While testing will help identify infections, the use of daily PPE and physical distancing, along with handwashing, not touching the eyes, nose or mouth and cough etiquette remain critical in containing spread and potential outbreaks.”