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

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Staff at Acropolis Manor, a Prince Rupert long-term health care facility in April 2020 where no cases of COVID-19 were reported until an outbreak on Jan. 19, 2021. As of Jan. 25th, 32 people associated with the residence have tested positive for the virus. (Photo: K-J Millar/The Northern View)
Staff at Acropolis Manor a Prince Rupert long term health care facility, take pride in their work place that no COVID-19 cases have been reported in the facility during the pandemic.This photo taken, April 20, from outside, looking through a window shows staff adhering to strict protocols and best practices to keep residents happy and healthy. (Photo: K-J Millar/The Northern View)
COVID-19 numbers increase at Acropolis Manor – 32 infected

Prince Rupert man concerned about temp. staff from out of region working at long-term care facility

Ken Veldman vice president, public affairs and sustainability, at Prince Port Port Authority on Jan. 21 addressed local employers in an online presentation about a new community recruitment program to attract employees to Prince Rupert. (Photo: K-J Millar/The Northern View)
New recruitment campaign to be launched in Prince Rupert

Web platform will use community collaboration to attract new employees to Prince Rupert

People skate on a lake in a city park in Montreal, Sunday, January 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
The end of hugs: How COVID-19 has changed daily life a year after Canada’s 1st case

Today marks the one year anniversary of COVID-19 landing in Canada

Wet’suwet’en supporters and Coastal GasLink opponents continue to protest outside the B.C. Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Thursday, February 27, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
‘We’re still in it’: Wet’suwet’en push forward on rights recognition

The 670-km Coastal GasLink pipeline was approved by B.C. and 20 elected First Nations councils on its path

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Employers might be able to require COVID-19 vaccination from employees: B.C. lawyer

‘An employer must make the case’ using expert science, explains lawyer David Mardiros

Dr. Penny Ballem, a former deputy health minister, discusses her role in leading B.C.’s COVID-19 vaccination program, at the B.C. legislature, Jan. 22, 2021. (B.C. government)
B.C. holds steady with 407 new COVID-19 cases Tuesday

14 deaths, no new outbreaks in the health care system

B.C. Premier John Horgan listens during a postelection news conference in Vancouver on Sunday, Oct. 25, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
30% of B.C. recovery benefit applications held up in manual review

The province says 150 staff have been reassigned to help with manually reviewing applications

Adam Dergazarian, bottom center, pays his respect for Kobe Bryant and his daughter, Gianna, in front of a mural painted by artist Louie Sloe Palsino, Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
Kobe Bryant’s presence remains strong a year after his death

Tuesday marks the grim anniversary of the crash that took their lives

Surrey RCMP are investigating after a pedestrian was struck and killed at 183 Street and Highway 10 Friday night. (File photo)
The Brucejack mine is 65 km north of Stewart in northwestern B.C. (Pretivm Photo)
B.C. mine executives see bright gleam in post-COVID future

Low carbon drives demand for copper, steelmaking coal

In this Dec. 18, 2020 photo, pipes to be used for the Keystone XL pipeline are stored in a field near Dorchester, Neb.  THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Chris Machian /Omaha World-Herald via AP
Canadians divided over Keystone pipeline, despite U.S. president’s permit pullback

Two-thirds of Canadians think Biden’s decision was a “bad thing” for Alberta

A woman wearing a protective face mask to curb the spread of COVID-19 walks past a mural in Victoria, B.C., on Monday, Dec. 7, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Marissa Tiel
5 big lessons experts say Canada should learn from COVID-19

‘What should be done to reduce the harms the next time a virus arises?’ Disease control experts answer

A Vancouver Police Department patch is seen on an officer’s uniform as she makes a phone call. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Vancouver man calls 911 to report his own stabbing, leading to arrest: police

Officers located the suspect a few blocks away. He was holding a bloody knife.

Vernon has agreed to a goose cull to control the over-populated invasive species making a muck of area parks and beaches. (Morning Star file photo)
Okanagan city pulls the trigger on goose cull

City asking neighbours to also help control over-population of geese

Most Read