Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Over the weekend, the Northwestern Health Unit announced that ‘several’ individuals tested positive for COVID-19 at the Meno Ya Win Health Centre.
It was later confirmed that six staff members at the health centre tested positive for COVID-19. These individuals, however, showed no signs of illness, making them asymptomatic positives.
These tests were carried out as part of the routine screening health program at Sioux Lookout’s Meno Ya win Health Centre. Meno Ya Win Health Centre has 430 staff members, 147 of which got tested. The testing done thus far accounts for about 34 per cent of the staff working there.
Dr. Ian Gemmill, acting officer of health for the NWHU, said in a press release that all six individuals are in isolation and contact tracing is currently underway to determine those who were in contact with these individuals for more than 15 minutes.
“All six cases have been interviewed by our staff and they are all in isolation,” Gemmill said. “This is a protocol and this is exactly what we would normally be doing with a positive that turned up no matter where they are. Any workplace, personal or household contacts are being identified and we are asking these people to get tested and to quarantine. We believe that the measures that need to be in place are in place to reduce any risk.”
There are three different agencies working in conjunction with each other to make sure risk to the community is minimized.
“Sioux Lookout Meno Ya Win Health Centre is currently looking after all the infection control and other measures at the hospital,” Gemmill said. “Sioux Lookout Health Authority is doing work in the hospitals and for people moving in and out of the health centres from northern communities to make sure we are not transporting people who may be infected. The Northwestern Health Unit is doing the usual work in the community with contacts of these positives who may require testing and quarantine.”
Heather Lee, CEO of the Meno Ya Win Health Centre, said surveillance was done to help give staff and patients a sense of comfort after feelings of anxiety that there was potential for contact in the community.
“Our main priority is the safety of our patients and our staff so we are minimizing any potential spread of this virus,” Lee said. “We have had precautionary practices in place from the beginning of this pandemic including visitor restrictions, utilization of personal protective equipment within the hospital. I do want to note that all of our staff are mandated to wear masks in the facility. When we realized there was an uptake of COVID-19, we put in place additional surveillance.”
Dr. John Guilfoyle, the medical director of the Sioux Lookout First Nations Health Authority, said there is no evidence of community spread. However, further visitor restrictions and additional testing has been reinforced at the Jeremiah McKay Hospital, Guilfoyle said.
While Gemmill, Lee and Guilfoyle say there is no evidence of community transmission, concerns that these positives may have caused an outbreak at the health centre began to surface.
Gemmill said that while these individuals are in isolation and contact tracing is underway, he cannot call this an outbreak because they are not ill.
“I want to emphasize that this is a cluster of asymptomatic people, who on screening, were found to be positive with no symptoms. At this time there is no outbreak of illness, and we are carefully monitoring anybody who is in the hospital or has an associated risk from the cases,” Gemmill said.”
“Right now, there is no serious illness that is clearly a case of a symptomatology caused by Coronavirus. Our main concern at this time is to ensure that should any of these people who were tested positive be infectious, the risk of transmission to any other person is minimized.”
Gemmill added that they want to ensure the media and the public that they are taking this situation very seriously even though there is no illness at the moment.
“We are taking every measure that is necessary to reduce the risk of the spread and to ensure that the safety of patients guarded with the greatest possible extent,” Gemmill said.