There are now five confirmed COVID cases linked to an outbreak at the Chatham-Kent Health Alliance.
The news comes as total COVID hospitalizations also climb. Thursday there were 17 patients in hospital with the virus including 11 from Chatham-Kent. Three of the patients were in the ICU and one was on a ventilator.
The outbreak in the medicine unit was originally declared May 11 with two cases. By May 13 it had grown to five. Four of the patients remain in hospital while one was discharged prior to the outbreak being declared. That person was identified through contact tracing and is isolating at home.
Health Alliance President & CEO Lori Marshall says “It is our understanding that the cases that are linked to our outbreak are in fact variants. We know that the variants are very transmissible and I think it is just a good reminder for all of us to keep doing what we’ve been doing in terms of things like our social distancing and our hand hygiene.”
Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Colby says most new COVID cases are variants with the majority being the B.1.1.7 version from the United Kingdom. Colby says other variants have arrived in Chatham-Kent however including five cases of the B.1.351 variant from South Africa and three cases of the P.1 variant from Brazil.
Regarding the U.K. variant, Colby says while not all tests are sent off for full genome sequencing, “I can presume that’s what we’re dealing with because it’s almost entirely supplanted the 'wild-type' strain that we were dealing with early on.”
Marshall says when an outbreak is declared several steps are triggered. “At this stage the only individuals who could be admitted to the unit would have to be COVID positive. We could continue to take transfers in from elsewhere in the province or regionally if those individuals were COVID positive.”
There’ve been 16 COVID patients arrive from outside Chatham-Kent since patient transfers out of hotspots began last month. Eight of these patients have been discharged and eight remain in hospital.
An outbreak also means a transition to “droplet and contact precaution throughout the unit,” says Marshall. “While there are certain conditions where normally you would have to treat those individuals as being potentially infectious, when we get into an outbreak situation we treat all patients with that level of protection for both the patients and staff.”
Marshall says more frequent cleanings are also done including areas like lounges and break rooms. Staff and physicians also perform two COVID screenings per day rather than one.
There are four hospital staff currently in isolation. Two are COVID positive but not related to the current outbreak. The other two are isolating as precaution following the outbreak and as of May 13 had continued to test negative. Marshall says any staff member who is concerned about isolating at home with their family or friends are provided with hotel accommodation.
Marshall sees a path toward easing the burden going forward. “Because the numbers are coming down provincially we have not had a request in the last number of days for transfers to come into CK,” she says. “We would assume therefore that requests for transfers out of other areas would also be coming down at the same time.”
While total numbers drop, so has the age of patients entering the hospital. The average age of COVID patients in Chatham Hospital last week was 48.9, compared to an average age of all patients at 71.6.
But Colby says this isn’t surprising. “It is disturbing that we are seeing people in hospital that are younger. But as disturbing as it is, it’s not surprising because we preferentially vaccinated our elderly people that have the greatest risk of a poor outcome.”
“So anybody that does end up in the hospital is likely going to be younger because the proportion of people protected by vaccination is much lower,” says Colby.
Alex Kurial, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Independent