COVID-19 outbreak declared at Dunnville hospital

Haldimand War Memorial Hospital Haldimand War Memorial Hospital. Photo credit: Google Maps

Two employees at Haldimand War Memorial Hospital have tested positive for COVID-19, prompting the local health unit to declare an outbreak at the Dunnville hospital.

Hospital CEO Sharon Moore said the two staff members are in self-isolation and no patients or residents of Edgewater Gardens — a retirement home adjacent to the hospital — have been affected so far.

Haldimand War Memorial Hospital has cared for 96 COVID-19 patients since the start of the pandemic. The hospital has one ventilator in the emergency department but no intensive care beds.

All seven staffed ICU beds in Haldimand-Norfolk — as well as 11 ventilators — are at Norfolk General Hospital in Simcoe. According to hospital spokesperson Aaron Gautreau, every one of those beds is currently in use, meaning the hospital has no room for any more patients in need of intensive care.

“We have a plan in place to surge to overcapacity according to the needs of our community,” Gautreau said, noting hospitals in Haldimand-Norfolk can send overflow patients to partner hospitals in Hamilton, Niagara and Burlington. 

Gautreau said Norfolk General has treated “less than 30 patients” for COVID-19.

Dr. Shanker Nesathurai, Haldimand-Norfolk’s medical officer of health, called the lack of available intensive care beds “very concerning,” since the most sick COVID-19 patients compete for space in the ICU with patients being treated for congestive heart failure and other conditions that require ventilation.

“If we don’t have ventilator capacity, then we’re going to really struggle with how to manage these patients,” Nesathurai said.

The vaccine rollout in Haldimand-Norfolk continued this week, with the health unit expecting to give second injections of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to all long-term care residents who want it by the end of the day Monday.

Retirement home residents will get their second shots later in the week.

Nesathurai said “approximately one-third” of health-care workers in long-term care have received their first dose of the vaccine. The province says staff may have to wait up to 35 days for their second dose due to issues with the Pfizer-BioNTech supply.

Health unit staff recently vaccinated 100 seniors in a single day at the community hall in Vittoria as a test run for holding clinics in sparsely populated rural areas once the vaccine arrives in greater volume.

“That gave us information on how we would scale this up throughout the health district as soon as possible,” Nesathurai said.

“We have 100,000 people in the district (and) we want to be able to vaccinate 1,000 people a day if we get enough vaccine. And we have to do that in a distribution system that includes every possible channel to get medicines to people as quickly as possible.”

The health unit reported Feb. 1 that one Haldimand-Norfolk resident was diagnosed with a more contagious variant of COVID-19, but no more cases have since been found.

“We’ve not identified any additional cases of the U.K. variant in the health district,” Nesathurai said Monday, cautioning that the B.1.1.7 variant could still be spreading in the community without detection.

There are currently 53 active cases of COVID-19 in Haldimand-Norfolk, where 1,369 residents have tested positive since the pandemic began. Of those, 38 people died of the disease, five died of other causes, and 1,269 have recovered.