With two University Hospital (UH) COVID-19 outbreaks declared over this week, containment strategies put in place at the facility are working and the outbreaks there are “turning the corner,” London Health Sciences Centre’s chief medical officer reiterated Thursday.
However, with case counts remaining high in the London and Middlesex region ahead of the holiday season, LHSC officials are bracing for what’s expected to be an imminent surge of COVID-19 patients that will put the hospital system’s capacity and delivery of services at further strain.
At least 610 cases have been reported in London and Middlesex since Dec. 1, more than any month during the pandemic. The region reported one death and a record 58 new cases on Thursday alone — the sixth time this month that a new single-day case record has been set.
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“We are a key organization in stopping the spread and caring for those affected by the virus,” said Dr. Adam Dukelow during Thursday’s COVID-19 media briefing.
“Each and every day, our entire team is working on so many different fronts to get us to the long-term goal. But today, that means containing the outbreaks, which we’re turning the corner on, stopping further spread and being ready to respond to the inevitable surge.”
In addition, the same week two outbreaks ended at UH, two new outbreaks cropped up at Victoria Hospital in south London — a facility which has already seen constrained capacity due, in part, to the aforementioned containment strategies at UH.
The outbreaks at Victoria Hospital, declared on Dec. 15 in C5-100 ENT/Burns/Plastics and on Dec. 16 in C6-400 Acute Medicine, are tied to fewer than five patient and five staff cases.
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The cases were found after symptomatic testing, and likely began as a result of a rise in COVID cases at city hospitals and within the broader community, Dukelow said.
As of Thursday, LHSC reported that 23 COVID-19 inpatients were in its care, while 31 staff members were actively infected with the virus.
“Unfortunately, all hospitals and other facilities across the province are doing everything we can to prevent outbreaks, but it’s my understanding through experts, that we will continue to see, despite our best efforts, small outbreaks, and then we have to do everything to contain the outbreaks once they’ve started,” he said.
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Over the past month, LHSC has been grappling with at least 13 outbreaks at its facilities, 11 of which have been at UH.
According to the organization, the UH outbreaks alone have been tied to at least 76 patient and 77 staff cases, and have led to at least 17 deaths, most recently on Thursday. At least 13 of the 16 deaths reported in December have been tied to the hospital.
Of the UH outbreaks, four have since been declared over, including two this week in 4TU Multi-Organ Transplant Unit and 8IP General Surgery.
The oldest ongoing outbreak at UH, declared Nov. 10 in 4IP General Medicine, has been blamed on subsequent outbreaks in at least five other units of the hospital. Of those, two have since resolved.
In its investigation of the Nov. 10 outbreak, health unit officials said there had been breaches in PPE use during staff breaks and that physical distancing was not always maintained.
In a bid to halt the further spread of the virus at UH, LHSC postponed non-urgent and non-emergent surgeries at the hospital in late November, and later reduced ambulatory or outpatient activity to urgent and emergent appointments, procedures, and diagnostic services only.
Staff working on floors with outbreaks have been in work-quarantine, where the only places they can go are to home, work, or urgent medical appointments, LHSC officials say. They’ve also been instructed to try and isolate from their own family members within their homes, with hotel rooms provided for some staff if needed.
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With admissions curbed at UH, LHSC opened two-dozen new beds at Victoria Hospital in an attempt to counteract increased pressure on the facility. However, Dukelow noted Thursday that capacity at Victoria has been “very constrained” due to patients being rerouted away from UH.
“We’ve reached out to regional partners and do anticipate decanting some acute patients to area hospitals in order to help with the capacity challenges at Victoria Hospital,” he said. Exactly how many patients may be decanted was not immediately available.
He added that LHSC plans to open an additional 26 beds at Victoria Hospital next month, and is working towards having 15 per cent of capacity open to deal with incoming COVID-19 patients, as outlined in a recent memo from the CEO of Ontario Health to hospitals in red and grey zones.
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