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Appeal for hospital visiting rights for vaccinated people

Wesley Miller, chief of staff at the Bermuda Hospitals Board (File photograph)

A family unable to visit a loved one in hospital because of Covid-19 restrictions has appealed for visiting rights for relatives who have the full vaccine.

A woman with a relative in the King Edward VII Memorial Hospital said her family was distressed at not being able to visit since tougher rules were introduced at the end of last month in the wake of a spike in coronavirus infections.

She said it was especially upsetting after news last week that less than half of the staff at the Bermuda Hospitals Board had got the jab and that unvaccinated staff could look after her relative, but family members who were fully immunised could not visit.

The woman, who asked not to be named, added: “I am sure we are not the only ones to voice these concerns. It’s just like being totally cut off.

“I think it is very unfair on people who have been vaccinated.”

But Wesley Miller, the BHB chief of staff, insisted there were “ethical” and “logistical” issues with the proposals.

The woman, however, asked: “How can Dr Miller say we can’t go in there and yet he’s got all the staff that’s down there taking care of patients and they are not vaccinated?”

Another woman, a friend of the family, suggested that if unvaccinated staff were able to look after patients wearing full personal protective equipment, mask-wearing immunised relatives should be allowed to visit for the mental health benefits it would bring.

She suggested daily Covid-19 saliva tests for unvaccinated staff and vaccinated relatives who wanted to visit.

She said: “The family can get the mouth swabs and also wear masks when they are in the hospital.

“How much more can you reduce the risk than that?”

She added that she felt “angry and hurt and emotional” over the treatment of the family.

The family friend said: “It is the mental anguish that upsets me the most. Why is it that those who follow the rules and do what they are asked to do are punished?”

Dr Miller said there was also uncertainty about the extent to which vaccinated people can transmit the virus and concern about dangerous new variants.

He added: “We understand the distress that families of patients and residents feel right now.

“We want to be able to welcome them back as soon as it is safe. Vaccination will help us get there.”

He said: “There are ethical considerations around only allowing vaccinated visitors and not allowing non-vaccinated visitors, as well as logistical considerations, such as what official documentation proves someone is vaccinated.”

BHB stopped the majority of hospital visits at the end of March after a sharp increase in number of coronavirus cases.

Visits are only allowed for children, new mothers and in “end of life” situations.

The BHB revealed last week that 26 per cent of the board’s doctors and 50 per cent of its nurses had not received the vaccine.

Dr Miller said: “The general ceasing of visiting other than in exceptional circumstances at BHB at the end of March was a first defence against the spread of a very infectious variant of Covid-19.

“Reducing the numbers of people inside a facility immediately reduced transmission risks for patients and staff.

“It also reduced the numbers of people coming into contact with each patient, which reduced risks even further.

“We also have reduced staff numbers on-site, with anyone who can work from home doing so remotely. Only essential staff are on site.”

Dr Miller emphasised that front line staff wore personal protective equipment to see patients and had to follow strict hand hygiene procedures.

He said: “Visitors usually just wear masks and, although are encouraged to sanitise their hands on entry, are not required to meet healthcare worker standards.”

Dr Miller explained a key question was understanding the transmission risks from vaccinated people and “especially understanding whether some of the very worrying new variants, including the one in Brazil, pose more of a risk, even to vaccinated individuals”.

He said: “We will keep following the research and national guidelines.

“Certainly, we believe vaccination is the best current protection available.

“We will continue to watch closely to see what would be appropriate.

“In the meantime, widespread vaccination in the community will reduce prevalence in Bermuda as a whole and help us welcome back loved ones and families.”

RG: How often do BHB staff have to test for Covid-19?

BHB: “We have regular surveillance testing with saliva testing – monthly or every two weeks, depending on the area. If there is a potential exposure to a positive case – whether in the community or at home – PCR (nasopharyngeal) testing may be required in addition to the surveillance testing, along with quarantine or isolation.

RG: Do vaccinated staff still have to test?

BHB: “Currently yes, but we are shifting to making the surveillance saliva test optional for vaccinated staff outside of frontline areas where there are highly vulnerable patients, including areas such as oncology and dialysis. This is based on clinical evidence that not only are positives cases a lot lower outside frontline areas, but transmission is much less likely too. All staff are already wearing personal protective equipment and a fully immunised staff member already has a very low chance of transmitting the virus to someone else. If a fully immunised staff member became symptomatic, PCR testing and isolation may be required.”

RG: If vaccinated staff test positive and have no symptoms, at what point can they return to work? Is it immediate?

BHB: “At this time, if a fully vaccinated staff member tests positive, they are required to stay home isolated and only return once they test negative. Even though a fully immunised individual is a low transmission risk, there are certain populations in hospital who are extremely vulnerable.”

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Published April 24, 2021 at 8:00 am (Updated April 24, 2021 at 12:11 pm)

Appeal for hospital visiting rights for vaccinated people

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