COVID-19 outbreak declared in neonatal intensive care unit at St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver

An outbreak of COVID-19 has been detected in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver, according to a notice from Vancouver Coastal Health.

The news was shared in a facility outbreak bulletin from the health authority on Thursday afternoon. Restrictions to prevent transmission of the disease have been put in place.

Shaf Hussain, spokesperson for Providence Health, which operates the hospital, said the NICU has been shut down and the patients transferred to a temporary satellite unit.

“We have strict infection control protocols that are immediately followed. We work closely with professionals in public health — they’ve done an amazing job for B.C.,” Hussain told CBC.

St. Paul’s NICU provides 24-hour care for premature babies and other newborns with serious health problems who need specialized attention. It is separate from the hospital’s maternity unit, which remains open and ready to deliver babies, according to Hussain.

Hussain couldn’t say whether COVID-19 has been detected in a patient or staff members, or how many people have been affected. Outbreaks can be declared in B.C. health-care settings with just one case.

“We’re working with the Vancouver Coastal Health medical health officer in leading the response to this exposure,” he said.

The NICU is now being thoroughly cleaned to prevent further transmission.

Dr. Brian Conway, medical director of the non-profit Vancouver Infectious Diseases Centre, says the outbreak could have easily originated from a staff person who contracted the virus outside the hospital.

“It’s a stark reminder that the virus is still among us; that the public health measures are there for a reason.”

He says B.C.’s ability to get COVID-19 test results on the same day or the following day is key to understanding and preventing outbreaks.

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