Nurses collect samples from a patient in a COVID suspect room in the COVID-19 intensive care unit at St. Paul’s hospital in downtown Vancouver, Tuesday, April 21, 2020. Testing patients for COVID-19 before their scheduled surgery and transfer to wards from emergency departments could reduce hospital outbreaks in British Columbia as the number of cases continues to rise in most regions, the results of a pilot project in the province’s largest health authority suggest. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

Nurses collect samples from a patient in a COVID suspect room in the COVID-19 intensive care unit at St. Paul’s hospital in downtown Vancouver, Tuesday, April 21, 2020. Testing patients for COVID-19 before their scheduled surgery and transfer to wards from emergency departments could reduce hospital outbreaks in British Columbia as the number of cases continues to rise in most regions, the results of a pilot project in the province’s largest health authority suggest. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

Doctors, nurses call on B.C. to test surgical, emergency patients for COVID-19

Health care workers say masks are not enough to keep them safe in close contact

Testing patients for COVID-19 before their scheduled surgery and transfer to wards from emergency departments could reduce hospital outbreaks in British Columbia as cases rise, the results of a pilot project in the province’s largest health authority suggest.

Fraser Health said that out of 5,681 patients who were booked for surgery, 65 tested positive for the virus but had no symptoms and would not have warranted a test based on a screening questionnaire. Of 2,969 patients booked for elective surgery, 11 were infected with the virus but were asymptomatic.

“Unidentified COVID-19 cases can lead to transmission and contribute to outbreaks,” the health authority says about its enhanced testing in a memo to staff.

Testing began in mid-November over three weeks for surgical patients and four weeks for patients who had been in emergency rooms.

“The triggers that led to the evaluation were two or more COVID-19 outbreaks in acute care and a testing positivity rate greater than five per cent. Both of these conditions still exist within Fraser Health,” the memo says, adding the health authority has continued testing for the virus.

The positivity rate, or the percentage of all COVID-19 tests performed that show infection, was 9.6 per cent when testing began in Fraser Health and is now at eight per cent, data from the BC Centre for Disease Control show.

The Northern Health Authority’s positivity rate shot to 16 per cent from 0.5 per cent in October, according to the centre’s data, which also show the Interior Health region’s rate has risen to 8.3 per cent, from a low of 1.7 per cent in November.

In the Vancouver Coastal region, the positivity rate is 5.2 per cent, from a low of 0.4 per cent in June. The Vancouver Island health region’s positivity rate is the lowest in the province, at just under three per cent.

In November, more than 500 doctors and nurses across B.C. sent a letter to provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix saying routine testing should be done at all acute-care centres because screening for symptoms was no longer sufficient in the second wave of the pandemic.

“Based on rising prevalence, we request an urgent reassessment of the issue of preoperative testing for surgical patients to ensure we prioritize the safety of our patients and maintain current levels of surgical productivity,” the letter says of the screening protocol put in place in May.

It says screening questionnaires don’t adequately identify risks for COVID-19 infection because they rely on patients to truthfully disclose all symptoms and some people arrive in hospital with symptoms, delaying surgery and putting others, including staff, at risk.

READ MORE: B.C. care home allowed group activities to continue after positive test: family

Henry said Monday that 10 facilities were currently experiencing outbreaks, affecting 1,364 residents and 669 staff.

They include two units at St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver, as well as the Cardiac Care Intensive Care Unit, all of which are closed to new admissions and transfers.

Henry acknowledged Monday that Fraser Health is testing patients because of its high positivity rate and that Northern Health “has had a very challenging few months.”

However, she suggested there is not a need for more widespread testing of patients before scheduled surgeries or admission to hospital from emergency departments.

Dr. Shannon Lockhart, a Vancouver anesthesiologist who is among the physicians who signed the letter to Henry and Dix, said physical distancing isn’t always possible in hospitals and there are multiple reasons why patients may not be able to wear a mask, especially when a breathing tube is removed after general anesthetic and they may cough, raising the risk of transmission.

Health-care workers who constantly put on and take off personal protective equipment over long shifts are prone to make mistakes, creating further risk, Lockhart said.

“These constraints increase the risk for infections to become super-spreading events as we’ve seen in some of the hospital outbreaks,” she said, adding recent studies from around the world show that surgical patients with COVID-19 are at greater risk of death.

Parts of Ontario and Nova Scotia require patients to be tested for COVID-19 several days before their scheduled surgery.

Camille Bains, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

Coronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The COVID-19 outbreak at the two Coastal GasLink workforce lodges has officially been declared over. (Lakes District News file photo)
COVID-19 outbreak at Coastal GasLink worksites declared over

In total, 56 cases were associated with the outbreak in the Burns Lake and Nechako LHAs

Fentanyl was among the drugs seized by New Hazelton RCMP in a big bust in early January. (File photo)
New Hazelton RCMP arrest five, seize drugs and large amount of cash

Police find suspected heroin, fentanyl and crystal meth during early January drug bust

Smithers Local Health area reported 32 new cases of COVID-19 for the second week of January. (BC CDC graphic)
Weekly new cases of COVID-19 rise to 32 in Smithers LHA Jan. 10 – 16

Northern Health reports 35 new cases for 501 active, 44 hospitalized, 17 in critical care Wednesday

Brett Alexander Jones is wanted on several warrants province-wide, in connection with multiple charges. Jan. 21, 2021. Kitimat RCMP photo
Kitimat RCMP searching for man wanted on several warrants province-wide

Jones is described as a five-foot 10-inches Caucasian man, with blond hair and blue eyes.

Smithers Secondary School students participate in a high performance workout in advance of the school becoming a campus of the Canadian Sport School. (Thom Barker photo)
Smithers Secondary chosen for campus of elite sport school

The Canadian Sport School provides supports and resources for high performance athletes

Toronto Public Health nurse Lalaine Agarin sets up for mass vaccination clinic in Toronto, Jan. 17, 2021. B.C. is set to to begin its large-scale immunization program for the general public starting in April. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
B.C.’s COVID-19 mass vaccinations expected to start in April

Clinics to immunize four million people by September

Police are searching for an alleged sex offender, Nicole Edwards, who they say has not returned to her Vancouver halfway house. (Police handout)
Police hunt for woman charged in ‘horrific’ assault who failed to return to Surrey halfway house

Call 911 immediately if you see alleged sex offender Nicole Edwards, police say

A screenshot from a local Instagram account video. The account appeared to be frequented by Mission students, and showed violent videos of students assaulting and bullying other students.
Parents, former students describe ‘culture of bullying’ in Mission school district

Nearly two dozen voices come forward speaking of abuse haunting the hallways in Mission, B.C.

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Joe Biden, then the U.S. vice-president, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau take their seats at the start of the First Ministers and National Indigenous Leaders meeting in Ottawa, Friday, Dec. 9, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Trudeau, Biden to talk today as death of Keystone XL reverberates in Canada

President Joe Biden opposed the Keystone XL expansion as vice-president under Barack Obama

Prince Edward Island’s provincial flag flies on a flag pole in Ottawa, Friday July 3, 2020. A lozenge plant in Prince Edward Island has laid off 30 workers, citing an “almost non-existent” cold and cough season amid COVID-19 restrictions. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
‘Almost non-existent’ cold and cough season: P.E.I. lozenge plant lays off 30 workers

The apparent drop in winter colds across the country seems to have weakened demand for medicine and natural remedies

Robert Riley Saunders. (File)
Disgraced Kelowna social worker faces another class-action lawsuit

Zackary Alphonse claims he was not informed of resources available to him upon leaving government care

A specialized RCMP team is investigating a suspicious trailer, which might have connections to the illicit drug trade, found abandoned outside a Cache Creek motel. (Photo credit: <em>Journal</em> files)
Police probe U-Haul trailer linked to illicit drugs left outside Cache Creek motel

Hazardous materials found inside believed to be consistent with the production of illicit drugs

Premier John Horgan leaves the podium following his first press conference of the year as he comments on various questions from the media in the Press Gallery at B.C. Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Monday, January 13, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Interprovincial travel restrictions a no-go, Horgan says after reviewing legal options

The B.C. NDP government sought legal advice as concerns of travel continue

Most Read