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

Just Posted

Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News
Search called off for small plane that went down in rough water south of Victoria

Plane bound for Port Angeles from Alaska believed to have one occupant, an Alaskan pilot

The Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre will once again be transformed into temporary sheltering for 45 individuals starting in March. (Courtesy of the B.C. Government)
Temporary shelter to resume at Victoria Save-On-Foods arena in March

BC Housing signed lease with GSL Group from Feb. 1 to May 30

The memorial site for double-murder victims Nellie Williams and Fran Shurie, located in Charles Hoey Park, will be allowed to stay for another two months after the City of Duncan changed its policy on temporary memorials. (Robert Barron/Citizen)
Duncan allowing memorials to murdered pair stay longer

Policy change related to memorial for double-homicide victims in city park

An Island Health graph showing COVID-19 cases in the central Island by local health area between Dec. 27 and Jan. 23. (Island Health image)
Central Island’s COVID-19 case spike shifting, says Island Health

Cowichan Valley has seen the highest number of cases, but Nanaimo and south Island seeing upticks

(Twitter/Ateachersaurus)
The Pachena Bay shoreline in 2013. (Twitter/Ateachersaurus)
This week in history: 9.0 magnitude quake struck under what is now called Vancouver Island

According to First Nations elders, the 9.0-magnitude quake in 1700 CE kick-started a tsunami

British Columbia Health Minister Adrian Dix looks on as Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry addresses the media during a news conference at the BC Centre of Disease Control in Vancouver B.C. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward)
B.C. announces 485 new COVID-19 cases, fewest deaths in months

‘The actions we take may seem small, but will have a big impact to stop the virus,” urges Dr. Henry

Victoria police will be making numerous arrests throughout the day Jan. 27 as part of its #VicPDWarrantWednesday project. (Nina Grossman/News Staff)
Numerous arrests today part of Victoria police #WarrantWednesday project

VicPD says arrests part of warrant enforcement project

The barge sank again on Jan. 8 and is still resting under water. (Bill McQuarrie photo)
Refloating of sunken Port McNeill barge to resume in early February

This will be the second attempt at recovery after poor weather conditions caused barge to re-sink

B.C. Premier John Horgan wears a protective face mask to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 prior to being sworn in by The Honourable Janet Austin, Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia during a virtual swearing in ceremony in Victoria, Thursday, November 26, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Premier Horgan calls jumping COVID vaccine queue ‘un-Canadian’

Horgan says most people in B.C. are doing their best to follow current public health guidelines

Worker at Swartz Bay terminal on Monday, January 20, 2020. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito)
Former BC Ferries employee alleges he was fired because of his race

Imraan Goondiwala has been granted a BC Human Rights Tribunal hearing

Former Vancouver Giants forward Evander Kane is seen here in Game 7 of the second round of the 2009 WHL playoffs against the Spokane Chiefs (Sam Chan under Wikipedia Commons licence)
Gambling debts revealed in details of bankruptcy filing by hockey star Evander Kane

Sharks left winger and former Vancouver Giants player owes close to $30 million total

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, left, and Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart share a laugh while speaking to the media before sitting down for a meeting at City Hall, in Vancouver, on Friday August 30, 2019. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)
Vancouver mayor, Health Canada to formally discuss drug decriminalization

Kennedy Stewart says he’s encouraged by the federal health minister’s commitment to work with the city

Victoria police are seeking a young woman suspected of spitting on a bus driver in October 2020. (Courtesy of Victoria Police Department)
Young woman sought after ‘spitting assault’ on Victoria bus driver

Suspect became irate after bus came to a sudden stop

Downtown Fernie is pictured after a snowfall.

Most Read