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

Colin J.D. Crooks has published his debut novel, a fantasy titled “The Shards of Etherious: Arisen.” (headshot photo courtesy Joslyn Kilborn Photography)
Cumberland author delves into fantasy world with debut novel

The Shards of Etherious: Arisen is the first book of a five-book series

Cathy Browne is very proud of her new front door. All the new doors are lovely and create an individual look for each room. Photo submitted
Courtenay’s Glacier View Lodge dressing up its doorways for residents

Glacier View Lodge’s vision of ‘feels like home’ has been enhanced this… Continue reading

Ginette Matthews shows off some of the wares at The Local Refillery. Photo by Femke Overmaat
Pandemic meant going digital quickly for Courtenay’s Local Refillery

Owner Ginette Matthews says system keep business open in its early months

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

Comox Valley RCMP are looking for witnesses after the theft of a generator worth thousands of dollars. Photo supplied
Comox Valley RCMP asking public to watch for stolen generator

Vehicle may have been travelling on Highway 19

U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders sits in on a COVID-19 briefing with Dr. Bonnie Henry, provincial health officer, and Adrian Dix, B.C. minister of health. (Birinder Narang/Twitter)
PHOTOS: Bernie Sanders visits B.C. landmarks through the magic of photo editing

Residents jump on viral trend of photoshopping U.S. senator into images

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Nanaimo Regional General Hospital. (News Bulletin file photo)
COVID-19 outbreak declared at Nanaimo hospital

Two staff members and one patient have tested positive, all on the same floor

A long-term care worker receives the Pfizer vaccine at a clinic in Nanaimo earlier this month. (Island Health photo)
All Island seniors in long-term care will be vaccinated by the end of this weekend

Immunization of high-risk population will continue over the next two months

A 75-year-old aircraft has been languishing in a parking lot on the campus of the University of the Fraser Valley, but will soon be moved to the B.C. Aviation Museum. (Paul Henderson/ Chilliwack Progress)
Vintage military aircraft moving from Chilliwack to new home at B.C. Aviation Museum

The challenging move to Vancouver Island will be documented by Discovery Channel film crews

A video posted to social media by Chilliwack resident Rob Iezzi shows a teenager getting kicked in the face after being approached by three suspects on Friday, Jan. 22, 2021. (YouTube/Rob i)
VIDEO: Security cameras capture ‘just one more assault’ near B.C. high school

Third high-school related assault captured by Chilliwack resident’s cameras since beginning of 2021

FILE - In this Feb. 14, 2017, file photo, Oklahoma State Rep. Justin Humphrey prepares to speak at the State Capitol in Oklahoma City. A mythical, ape-like creature that has captured the imagination of adventurers for decades has now become the target of Rep. Justin Humphrey. Humphrey, a Republican House member has introduced a bill that would create a Bigfoot hunting season, He says issuing a state hunting license and tag could help boost tourism. (Steve Gooch/The Oklahoman via AP, File)
Oklahoma lawmaker proposes ‘Bigfoot’ hunting season

A Republican House member has introduced a bill that would create a Bigfoot hunting season

Economic Development and Official Languages Minister Melanie Joly responds to a question in the House of Commons Monday November 23, 2020 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Federal minister touts need for new B.C. economic development agency

Last December’s federal economic update promised a stimulus package of about $100 billion this year

FILE - In this Nov. 20, 2017, file photo, Larry King attends the 45th International Emmy Awards at the New York Hilton, in New York. Former CNN talk show host King has been hospitalized with COVID-19 for more than a week, the news channel reported Saturday, Jan. 2, 2021. CNN reported the 87-year-old King contracted the coronavirus and was undergoing treatment at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. (Photo by Andy Kropa/Invision/AP, File)
Larry King, broadcasting giant for half-century, dies at 87

King conducted an estimated 50,000 on-air interviews

Most Read