The Bermuda Hospitals Board (BHB) would neither confirm or deny reports that nine clinical staff members who work on the fourth floor Ascendant Re Ward has sent nine (9) clinical staff members home, who have tested positive for COVID-19.

Bermuda Real was informed by reliable sources last week that at least four of the staff members and nurse’s aides who were sent home were in contact with patients by being in their rooms, with possible COVID exposure to at least 30 patients.

But hospital officials say only five staff members were sent home – not nine, as indicated by our sources, and that “these mostly start as community exposures rather than in-hospital transmissions”.

Additionally, we were informed that there is a patient on another ward who tested positive for COVID-19 last week, who has been in the hospital for at least eight months.

Three staff members on that ward were sent home and the question remains how did the patient, who has not left the hospital since their admission contract the coronavirus.

The Extended Care Unit was placed on “isolation” last week.

We were also told by staff members affected that notices from the hospital’s Chief of Staff, Dr Wesley Miller on when they will be allowed to return to work were deemed ambiguous.

One source said that they were under the impression that they will not be able to return to work if they are not fully vaccinated, even though taking the jab is not mandatory.

We reached out to the hospital on Wednesday, April 14.

On Saturday, April 17, Bermuda Real received this response from a spokeswoman for the BHB, who said: “Thank you for your patience, we appreciate you giving us time to respond.

“With  thousands of people under quarantine in Bermuda and well over 800 active positive cases in the community at the moment, BHB has staff impacted who are either under quarantine or have had a positive test.

“This should be expected in a community surge such as we are experiencing.

“These mostly start as community exposures rather than in-hospital transmissions.

“Any identified positive cases at BHB results in contact tracing, and then quarantine and testing for identified exposures although it should be noted not all exposure result in transmission.

“We work closely with the Department of Health through this process,” she said.

“Thankfully a growing number of staff are fully vaccinated so the risks of infection and transmission are lower for those individuals.”

When asked for clarification on Dr Miller’s position, she added: “You misunderstood what was said about unvaccinated staff.

“We need all our staff.

“The statement referenced was actually that staff who are not fully vaccinated will have to complete a full quarantine if they are exposed, whether in the community or at work,” she said.

“Unvaccinated staff are at significantly higher risk of infection and of transmitting the virus to others than their fully vaccinated colleagues.”

When asked how a patient in hospital for the past eight months contracted the deadly virus, she said: “We do not breach confidentiality with names or locations of positive cases, but can speak broadly to services.”

She also stated that there were only five staff members who tested positive who were sent home – not nine as we were told.

“There are five positive staff members across all acute care wards.”

When asked if this current situation reflects a COVID outbreak within the King Edward VII Memorial Hospital, she said: “There is no indication of any staff to patient transmission.

“Staff wear full personal protective equipment in every patient encounter.

“There are two positive patient cases in our long term care service and five staff positives.

“We do try to minimize the risks of this highly infectious variant of COVID-19. Along with infection control precautions, all long term care patients and staff have bi-weekly surveillance testing using saliva.

“All staff and patients have now also received a PCR (nasopharyngeal) test – which is the gold standard for diagnosing COVID-19. All known positives to date are reported above. All long term care patients were also offered the COVID-19 vaccine back in January, but some patients/families declined.

“Vaccination – for staff, patients and the wider community is still our best chance at protecting ourselves and all those we interact with in and out of hospital,” she added.

“All our staff are encouraged to get vaccinated for their own protection and to protect families, colleagues and patients.”

On that note she said: “We remain acutely aware of the dangers and risks, especially while there are unvaccinated people needing care, and will do all we can to minimize them.

“Without widespread vaccination, however, this will remain a very challenging virus to contain completely,” she added.

But during the Government’s COVID-19 briefing on Friday night (April 16), the BHB’s Chief suggested that some hospital staff who have been a close contact of someone with COVID-19 and may be quarantining might be able to return to work if they have received both doses of the vaccine.

In an interview with TNN published yesterday after the zoom press conference on Friday, Dr Miller explained: “If BHB staff are working in an area with patients who are highly vulnerable…it would not make sense for them to return to work in that area..

“Aside from that, some staff can come back under certain circumstances if they wear the appropriate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE),” he said.

“For these staff members, appropriate PPE would be wearing both a mask and clear face shield at all times. To further reduce the spread of the virus, those staff members would not be able to sit and eat with other staff members; they would have to sit and eat alone.”

The report goes on to say that according to Dr Miller, eating separately and isolating from other workers would last as long as the standard quarantine period.

“Should the staff member become symptomatic for the virus, they would have to stop working immediately and go get tested,” he said.

“In another highly concerning issue at present with our staff, if staff members would have used up all of their paid sick days before the start of their quarantine period, then the quarantine period will count as vacation days,” he added.

“Suppose the staff member did not have any vacation time. This presents a slight problem because they will then wonder how they are going to manage this.

“Due to some staff members being allowed to return to work, not all of them would have to use up all of their vacation or sick days to quarantine.

“It is an advantage for our staff to be fully vaccinated, because the BHB can bring the person back to work,” he said. “It works well for the employee because they can have their vacation time untouched because they are able to work.

“Those staff members who may have had close contact with positive COVID-19 cases would not be permitted to go anywhere during the quarantine period except to and from home and work,” he added.

“The idea would be, from work to home, maintaining workplace isolation during the 14-day quarantine period.”

Dr Miller concluded by reiterating that while vaccinations for BHB staff are highly encouraged, it is not mandatory for any of them.

“They do not have to get vaccinated if they do not want to do so,” he said.

As the impact of COVID-19 pandemic rages on, Bermuda Real reported earlier today that yet another death was recorded this morning, just one day after the latest death recorded on Saturday, April 17, bringing the total number of deaths to 19.

Official confirmation on this latest death is still pending.