Hospital staff who transport test specimens at a COVID-19 assessment centre in Mississauga were told that Canada is “not in a pandemic” and that only standard droplet-contact flu protocols are required when transporting potentially infectious test samples. 

Video footage shared with True North shows hospital officials telling a facility transport employee, who had requested scrubs while moving test samples, that additional personal protective equipment (PPE) would not be issued because the hospital deems it unnecessary.

The employee asked not to be identified out of fear of retribution. True North has opted to share only the audio from the footage so as to not identify the employee.

Less than three weeks after the footage was taken, the very same hospital reported an outbreak after four patients in an inpatient unit tested positive for the virus and were subsequently quarantined. 

In one video, allegedly taken Mar. 13, the hospital’s manager of infection prevention and control, Jackie Nugent, says there’s no need for extra PPE. 

“I don’t know how you do your laundry. But the reality is that the hospital does not need to provide specific PPE for this. For example, a nurse that is actually in direct contact with all patients. That nurse is going home and washing her uniform. There’s no change in how we are actually wearing our regular clothing but again if you are in direct contact than we wear the appropriate PPE,” Nugent said.

According to Nugent, the hospital uses the same droplet contact precautions to handle the virus as they would with regular influenza strains. In one part of the video, Nugent says the coronavirus is, from an infection control standpoint, “no different than any other virus.”

“The coronavirus is not a virus by which for example we’re given any special directions. So it’s no different than any other virus you’ve actually been working with every day that you’ve been coming in since,” Nugent told the employee.  

“Where we were using enhanced precautions, we’re actually using the appropriate precautions now which is simply droplet contact precautions which is the same as what we would use for influenza.”

Another video taken Mar. 13, two days after the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic, shows a hospital employee apparently downplaying the virus altogether.

“We’re not in a pandemic. Other countries are because they don’t have the healthcare that you do,” this employee says.

Trillium Health Partners could not identify the position or identity of the individual in question because their protocol prohibits them from discussing personnel matters. 

As well as handling bags of potentially viral samples, facility transport staff are also tasked with providing fresh bed linens and handling sterilized medical equipment. 

“It’s to a ridiculous point, I have to pick up the samples for the coronavirus and right after I drop those off at microbiology, I have to take clean instruments and clean linen to a mother and baby unit,” said the facility transport employee who made the request for scrubs.

Besides being advised to wash their hands and other measures in line with the advice of public health authorities, he says facility transport employees were not being required to wear scrubs or masks while working in the hospital at the time. 

A spokesperson for Trillium Health Partners, which operates the Credit Valley Hospital, declined to comment on the footage but told True North the hospital has implemented enhanced procedures specific to COVID-19.

“While we are not able to comment on personnel specifics or a recording we have not heard, we would like to emphasize that infection prevention and control meetings are being held frequently throughout this pandemic, as all Canadian hospitals and health care authorities continually monitor and reassess the best guidance and information available for managing the virus,” said Keeley Rogers. 

“This is the reality of COVID-19 and we are incredibly proud of the work our infection prevention and control professionals and frontline workers are doing to keep patients, health care workers and the community safe.”

According to Rogers, the hospital has established a number of precautions to prevent an outbreak, including enhanced screening for anybody entering the hospital, new visitor guidelines, postponing elective and non-emergency services, adoption of droplet contact precautions, ongoing education and demonstrations and regular donning of surgical masks by all health care providers in patient care areas. 

Executive Director of Infection Prevention and Control (IPAC) Canada Gerry Hansen wouldn’t comment on Credit Valley Hospital’s specific uniform policies but told True North there are specific guidelines to protect those who collect specimens.

“There is infection prevention and control guidance to protect all involved from exposure, especially during collection of specimens and their handling in the laboratory,” Hansen said. “All clinical specimens should be handled with care and placed in secure sealed biohazardous bags upon collection, to protect anyone transporting the specimen to the laboratory,” said Hansen.

“We do not know what the ordinary uniform is in this health system. We cannot speak to the recommended guidelines for ordinary uniforms in every province or health care system.”

By March 13, there were a total of 157 confirmed cases of the virus in Canada, since then the number of cases has exploded to over 9,000 confirmed cases.

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