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Revealed: slow reaction to Westmeath test plea

A nurse at Bermuda's largest residential home for seniors tested positive for Covid-19 almost two weeks ago but a plea for everyone else at the facility to be immediately screened for the coronavirus was not acted on.

Barbara Lee, the chairwoman of the board of trustees of Westmeath Residential and Nursing Home, said last night she e-mailed David Burt, the Premier, as soon as the employee got her test results to highlight the “urgent” need for all 55 residents and 40 staff members to be tested.

She added that Cabinet secretary Major Marc Telemaque had replied to say he would forward the e-mail to Mr Burt.

Mrs Lee said Major Telemaque later told her an investigation had been launched and contact tracing for the nurse was being carried out. But Covid-19 testing for the rest of Westmeath's staff and its patients was not done.

Mrs Lee added that after the nurse tested positive she “wrote to the Premier and said ‘you have to do this'. I said ‘look at what's happening to those homes in the United States' ... I said ‘we have to be tested'.”

She said the home had a large number of “extremely vulnerable” seniors. She added: “I did as much as I could possibly do. There is no blood on my hands.”

Mrs Lee was speaking after the private home on Pitts Bay Road, Pembroke, was revealed by the Ministry of Health last night to have three cases of Covid-19 — two staff members and one patient.

A ministry spokeswoman said the first case was identified on April 10 and that individual was in quarantine until yesterday.

The spokeswoman added: “All close contacts were also quarantined. Guidance was given by the Ministry of Health to the home to quarantine four members of staff who had been in close contact with that individual.

“All staff have been monitoring their temperature daily, wearing a mask throughout their shifts and wearing work uniform during working hours only.”

Mrs Lee said the four employees, all managers, who were in close contact with the nurse did not go into quarantine because they were needed to run the home.

They remained at work, wore personal protective equipment and did not have direct contact with patients, with the approval of the Government's nurse epidemiologist, to ensure a safe nurse to patient ratio.

Mrs Lee said the four would have ended quarantine yesterday and they were “all healthy”.

The patient with Covid-19, believed to be in their eighties, is in the King Edward VII Memorial Hospital and it is understood their condition is not critical.

A ministry spokeswoman said that all residents and staff at Westmeath would be tested for the coronavirus from today.

Mrs Lee explained the first Covid-19 case involved a senior member of the nursing staff who developed symptoms, saw her doctor on April 8 and had not returned to the home since.

She said: “She knew to take herself away. She went to a doctor and then eventually came up positive. They did the contact tracing and said she picked it up from outside the home.

“That senior staff member floats between all the areas and is more of a supervisor than hands-on.”

The second staff member, another female nurse, displayed symptoms and tested positive on April 14.

Mrs Lee said that nurse was a casual member of staff who also worked at the Matilda Smith Williams Seniors Residence in Devonshire.

The largest spread of the coronavirus on the island so far — 27 cases — was linked to the Matilda Smith Williams home.

Care staff at the island's 21 residential homes were able to work at more than one home, even after the coronavirus pandemic led to visitors being banned from residential homes. The practice has since been stopped.

Kim Wilson, the Minister of Health, said last week that a second nursing home had a staff case of Covid-19 but refused to identify it. Ms Wilson said there was no need to name the home “because it doesn't necessarily represent a public health risk”.

Mrs Lee suggested the Government did not have the testing capacity earlier this month to test all of Westmeath's patients and staff.

She said: “They didn't have the swabs. I think they prioritised holding tests back for people who were coming in sick.”

Mrs Lee added that Westmeath staff and patients have had their temperature taken every day for several weeks.

She said the patient who tested positive on Monday was isolated and taken to hospital as soon as their symptoms appeared.

Ms Wilson said last night: “The Ministry of Health has conducted contact tracing where appropriate and offered further guidance to the home.

“The ministry also provides PPE training and PPE supplies. My team has been working diligently with all care homes on the island to control the spread of the virus among our most vulnerable.”

The ministry spokeswoman said there were 31 positive cases of Covid-19 associated with care homes in Bermuda but did not respond to a question about which home was associated with the 31st case.

She said the Bermuda Health Council would assist Westmeath with contingency planning and that contact tracing continued.

There was no response to questions on why immediate testing of everyone at Westmeath was not done and whether the delay could have led to the spread of the virus at the home.

Virus outbreak: Westmeath senior home, the largest on the island, has been drawn into the coronavirus crisis (Photograph courtesy of Byways Tours Bermuda)

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Published April 22, 2020 at 9:00 am (Updated April 22, 2020 at 7:27 am)

Revealed: slow reaction to Westmeath test plea

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