Alpha variant confirmed in latest KGH outbreak

Kingston General Hospital, a KHSC site. Photo by Lucas Mulder.

The Alpha variant has been confirmed as the source of the COVID-19 outbreak in the Davies 5 unit of Kingston General Hospital (KGH)—with 12 cases as of Wednesday, Jul. 7, 2021.

“The Alpha variant, the one that used to be called the British variant or B.1.1.7, is behind all cases at this point. It appears that that is the case,” said Elizabeth Bardon, Kingston Health Sciences Centre (KHSC) Vice President, Mission and Strategy Integration and Support Services.

“Anytime there’s an outbreak of any kind, we’re very concerned. We know it’s upsetting for people,” Bardon said in an interview Thursday, Jul. 8, 2021.

The source of the outbreak is still under investigation. “It’s hard to tell with this kind of illness. To find that out, we would have to do genome sequencing,” said Borden.

Since COVID-19 tests are a point-in-time test—meaning someone who tests today with no symptoms may have the virus since the incubation period is up to ten days—Bardon said that testing every three days, as well as testing on admission and discharge, is part of the strategy to control the outbreak.

“We’re not quite there yet. This is a sneaky virus.”

Elizabeth bardon, KHSC V.P. mission strategy integration and support services

“It’s possible that we may have a few more cases within the next few days, but hopefully that number remains low.”

She said that she cannot confirm how many of those affected had either been fully vaccinated, partially vaccinated, or haven’t had the vaccine at all.

Part of the challenge, Bardon said, is that it’s tricky to get personal information as it’s just “one piece of the puzzle. I don’t have access to that info—that’s considered personal health info.”

“Just as I wouldn’t share someone’s medical information publicly, we also wouldn’t share an individual’s (vaccination) status.”

She confirmed that KHSC had offered vaccines to all staff members, had on-site vaccination access, and that they had very good uptake, with some people “enthusiastically signing up for their vaccine appointments”.

Elizabeth Bardon. Photo from KHSC website

Asked whether KHSC staff have to be fully vaccinated to work at the hospital, Bardon said that KHSC’s policy is consistent with other Ontario hospitals. First, proof of vaccination is required; second, provision of a medical exemption form from a doctor—whether permanent (for example, an allergy to a vaccine ingredient) or temporary (a recent tetanus shot); and third, staff must participate in a course about COVID-19 vaccinations if they can’t produce the first two requirements.

As to the frequency of COVID-19 tests among staff, Bardon confirmed that only staff who have been providing care on the affected unit are tested every three days, for this particular outbreak.

“(There’s) no standard within hospitals that staff are tested on specific intervals outside of illness or exposure,” Bardon noted.

Systems currently in place to control the outbreak include testing patients on admission and discharge, on-site COVID swabs for all staff, on-site vaccinations, prioritizing vaccinations to family members of patients, restricting visiting privileges temporarily in affected units and continuing to be vigilant about hand-washing, mask-wearing, eye protection, proper PPE wearing and increased sanitation for high touch areas.

“We want to provide the safest environment and care,” Bardon said.

Even with Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox and Addington’s high vaccination rates, the latest outbreak proves that people still need to be vigilant.

“This is a sneaky virus. We need people to wear a mask: those visiting patients (and) patients (themselves). Social distancing, masking—those are important even now.

“We’re not quite there yet. There’s still the ability of the virus to infect us. The vaccine helps to prevent severe hospitalizations and death. We strongly encourage everyone to get their full vaccines,” Bardon urged.

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