Two patients die in cancer ward at Sherbrooke hospital following COVID-19 outbreak

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Oncologis Dr. Michel Pavic is one of 15 doctors who are asking the Health Ministry to tighten regulations surrounding testing of medical staff who choose not to get vaccinated against COVID-19. (Radio-Canada - image credit)
Oncologis Dr. Michel Pavic is one of 15 doctors who are asking the Health Ministry to tighten regulations surrounding testing of medical staff who choose not to get vaccinated against COVID-19. (Radio-Canada - image credit)

A group of doctors from Sherbrooke, Que., is urging health-care workers to get vaccinated — or at least tested for COVID-19 — following an outbreak on a floor for cancer patients, which led to 17 infections.

At least two people have died, and two more are in intensive care, according to Dr. Michel Pavic, a medical oncologist and director of the hematology and oncology unit at Université de Sherbrooke.

Pavic co-signed an open letter with fourteen colleagues from Sherbrooke's Fleurimont hospital, expressing concern over this "alarming situation."

"We respect a person's choice not to be vaccinated, but if we make that choice, we should have to be tested three times a week," said Pavic.

That was the directive given to the health-care network by the Ministry of Health and Social Services.

But "contrary to what we all thought," said Pavic, hematology and oncology staff were allowed to refuse to get tested, contrary to personal in the ER, where the tests are mandatory.

The public health director of the Eastern Townships, Dr. Alain Poirier, said the directive to systematically test workers who aren't vaccinated only applies in "hot zones."

"The decision to widen who falls under this directive is now in the court of the Health Ministry," Poirier said.

The doctors are asking for a "systematic" screening system for all health-care workers, particularly those working with vulnerable patients with low immune systems.

A spokesperson for Health Minister Christian Dubé confirmed later on Wednesday that "a request has been sent to the ministry to analyze this request."

Poirier is also encouraging health-care workers to get vaccinated, and to wear personal protective equipment (PPE).

7 staff members test positive

The outbreak, which started two weeks ago, happened on the hematology and oncology floor of the Centre hospitalier universitaire de Sherbrooke (CHUS).

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the unit has been considered a "sanctuary zone" according to the doctors' letter. To be admitted, a patient has to have passed a COVID-19 test.

"Patients and visitors don't circulate from room to room," said Pavic. "It's the personnel who transmitted the virus, and that transmission is possible when a person isn't vaccinated.

In total, seven staff members at the Fleurimont hospital, including five who weren't vaccinated, also tested positive for COVID-19.