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A COVID-19 outbreak at St. Boniface Hospital has so far infected 11 patients and five staff members, as the province announced 135 new cases Wednesday, the overwhelming majority of them in the city.

The hospital says the cases are in the E5 and E6 units, which have been raised to "critical" under Manitoba's pandemic-response system. Admissions to the units have been suspended and visits to patients are under restrictions.

Manitoba Nurses Union president Darlene Jackson said at least one of the five affected staff members is a nurse, and she's waiting for details on the number of union members who are affected and currently isolated.

"We are concerned about the spread of COVID-19 in two medicine units at St. Boniface Hospital," Jackson said. "Unfortunately, the employer has been slow to communicate and address increasing concerns among staff, patients and their families.

A COVID outbreak at St. Boniface Hospital has infected 11 patients and five staff members in the E5 and E6 units, which have been raised to critical under Manitoba's pandemic-response system. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press files)

A COVID outbreak at St. Boniface Hospital has infected 11 patients and five staff members in the E5 and E6 units, which have been raised to critical under Manitoba's pandemic-response system. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press files)

"In order to contain any outbreak, it is imperative for communication to be shared as expediently possible."

Hospital corporate affairs and communications director Micheline St-Hilaire provided no further details, but said updates would be posted on the facility's website.

The hospital is open, and clinics and procedures are continuing as usual, a statement said. All potential contacts between Oct. 5 and 20 are being traced, it added.

Although the facility said last Friday that the outbreak began with two patients who were receiving care, Wednesday's statement noted the source of the outbreak is being investigated.

Questions relating to the number of patients and staff in isolation and how affected staffing will be covered were not addressed Wednesday.

Manitoba Association of Health Care Professionals president Bob Moroz called for more support from both the government and employer so health-care workers can stay home if they are ill. The association represents hundreds of employees at the facility.

Poultry plant workers infected

Manitoba's largest poultry producer has been hit with an outbreak of COVID-19.

The Exceldor Co-operative plant in Blumenort — formerly known as Granny's — confirmed 27 cases Wednesday, saying many of the workers live or commute together, which likely led to the rapid spread of the virus.

The Quebec-based company said it doesn't believe the virus spread between employees while they were at work.

Employees have been provided with masks, which are mandatory inside the plant. The company installed acrylic barriers, staggered employees' start times and regularly sanitizes the workplace, the United Food and Commercial Workers union representing them confirmed.

Manitoba's largest poultry producer has been hit with an outbreak of COVID-19.

The Exceldor Co-operative plant in Blumenort — formerly known as Granny's — confirmed 27 cases Wednesday, saying many of the workers live or commute together, which likely led to the rapid spread of the virus.

The Quebec-based company said it doesn't believe the virus spread between employees while they were at work.

Employees have been provided with masks, which are mandatory inside the plant. The company installed acrylic barriers, staggered employees' start times and regularly sanitizes the workplace, the United Food and Commercial Workers union representing them confirmed.

According to the company, the first case among workers was identified Oct. 8. A man in his 40s who worked at the plant and lived in Winnipeg died after being diagnosed.

"Exceldor investigated every single one of the cases and results show that all the measures in place are effective in avoiding contamination among employees in the workplace," spokesperson Gabrielle Fadu said in an emailed statement.

"Our role is to ensure a safe working environment for our employees and to raise as much awareness as possible on the precautions to take outside the workplace. Our reality is as follows: several workers live together or commute together, which may have led to this situation within our employees.

“We are working closely with public health on this issue and all their recommendations are already implemented and if needed, new ones would be implemented."

UFCW Local 832 said it is working with the company.

"While we are concerned with how quickly numbers are rising in this plant, we are working with the company to ensure our members' stress and concerns are looked after, and safety is the top priority," secretary-treasurer Bea Bruske said in a statement.

The plant is expecting a visit from public health and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency Friday, Bruske said.

Workers who've tested positive and can't work can recover lost wages through their Blue Cross coverage, but the union said there is no sick pay for workers who are close contacts of positive cases.

“This highlights a need for paid sick days to be a priority for workers to be brought in, both during this pandemic and after," Bruske said.

The plant is the largest employer in Blumenort, a community of about 1,700 located 10 kilometres north of Steinbach.

Meanwhile, seven workers at Winnipeg's Maple Leaf Foods plant have tested positive.

“As you know, the Winnipeg community is experiencing an increase in cases and that community increase is also impacting some of our Team Members who live there,” Janet Riley, vice-president communications and public affairs with Maple Leaf, said in a statement.

“Public health officials have concluded that there is no evidence of workplace transmission associated with any of the cases. Rather, our Team Members appear to have acquired these cases in the community.”

There are more than 1,400 people working at the plant.

 

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"There is an enormous amount of pressure, in that people have used up sick time and vacation," he said.

"Our numbers are continuing to go up, our hospitalizations are continuing to go up. People are out of time and they’re not getting a lot of support, so it can’t be surprising that it’s a huge amount of stress on those individuals to go to work, or not go to work."

On Wednesday, the province reported the death of a man in his 80s from Winnipeg who was a resident at Parkview Place Long Term Care Home, due to COVID-19. As of Wednesday, 43 Manitobans have died from the disease, including 11 residents of Parkview Place.

The five-day test positivity rate was 4.8 per cent and 1,861 tests were completed Tuesday.

Winnipeg reported 102 new cases, while spikes were also reported in the Southern Health-Sante Sud and Interlake Eastern regions, with 12 and 17 new cases, respectively.

Four new cases were identified in the Northern health region. No cases were reported in Prairie Mountain Health.

According to public health, there were 1,774 active cases, though the number is inflated due to a backlog in reporting recoveries. The province said 1,809 individuals are considered recovered from COVID-19.

Hospital and ICU data were not available by 5 p.m. Wednesday due to a technical issue.

The outbreak at St. Boniface is the second cluster in a Winnipeg hospital to be disclosed by the province.

On March 30, an outbreak was declared at Health Sciences Centre that continued for more than a month and resulted in 25 cases. Sixteen workers, five patients, and four people among household and close contacts became ill.

Two patients died after being infected with the virus in hospital. In all, 40 nurses, 30 allied health professionals, 20 support staff and 15 security guards had to go into isolation.

Moroz said policies on patient admissions to hospitals and care facilities should be revisited, along with how patients are assessed for COVID-19 risk.

Meanwhile, Canadian Union of Public Employees, which represents health-care support workers, filed 55 grievances with the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority and Shared Health related to personal protective equipment and inconsistent access to N95 masks.

"We have heard that support staff on the COVID units (E5 and E6) at St. Boniface Hospital aren't being provided N95s, and this speaks directly to our grievance," union president Debbie Boissonneault said. "We need St. Boniface Hospital to provide all health-care support staff, from health-care aides to housekeeping, every protection possible."

danielle.dasilva@freepress.mb.ca

Danielle Da Silva

Danielle Da Silva
Reporter

Danielle Da Silva is a general assignment reporter.

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