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Two patients who didn't have COVID-19 when they entered a St. John's hospital are now ill with the virus, in addition to another staff member at the facility.
Multiple sources in the health-care system have confirmed to CBC News that the two patients at St. Clare's Mercy Hospital were not COVID-positive when they were admitted earlier this month.
On Feb. 10, an Eastern Health employee at St. Clare's learned they were positive while at work. That person didn't break any rules or regulations — they had been told by the health authority that the current policy meant they would continue to work their scheduled shifts at the hospital after getting swabbed for the virus, and before their result was available.
"There was some suggestion that the individual wasn't following public health guidelines, but they actually were," Eastern Health president and CEO David Diamond told CBC News last week.
The health-care worker, whose test later confirmed they had COVID-19, was asymptomatic while working in the St. Clare's ward where the two patients subsequently contracted the virus.
It's not clear whether the Eastern Health employee is linked to any of the three cases — the two patients and the staff member — who contracted COVID-19 at the hospital.
The two St. Clare's patients have since been admitted to the COVID ward at the Health Sciences Centre, CBC was told.
Eastern Health won't confirm any details
After the province identified coronavirus variant B117 as the cause of the outbreak that has gripped the metro region for over two weeks, Eastern Health changed its rules, requiring staff to self-isolate after a COVID-19 test.
They can now return to work only after they have been confirmed negative.
While hospitals across Canada have repeatedly battled outbreaks within their walls, it's believed to be the first time this type of spread has happened in Newfoundland and Labrador. However, Eastern Health would not confirm or deny whether, in fact, a patient contracted the virus while in a hospital.
The health authority declined multiple requests for comment before issuing a statement by email to CBC. It would not answer specific questions from CBC, citing privacy concerns.
"In cases where low numbers are involved and the risk of identification of individuals is too high, Eastern Health is unable to confirm or provide details of employees, physicians or patients who have tested positive for COVID-19 at individual facilities," the statement says.
Two unions that represent health-care workers in the province, the Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Public and Private Employees and the Registered Nurses' Union N.L., also declined to comment.
The health authority suspended all visitation in the affected St. Clare's ward, a general surgery unit, after it learned of the employee's positive test on Feb. 10.
As of Feb. 16, 512 health-care workers were in isolation as of Monday, including more than 400 in the Eastern Health region.