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'We learned a lot during SARS': B.C. hospitals, nurses prepared for new coronavirus

Last Updated Jan 30, 2020 at 11:20 am PDT


B.C.'s nurses and hospitals say they're ready in case the new coronavirus spreads in this province

Nurses are being reminded to check their masks and protocols

Hospital Employees' Union says there's no need to panic, that professionals are prepared

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – As the number of cases of the novel coronavirus continues to rise around the world, B.C. hospitals and nurses say they’re ready if the illness spreads in this province.

According to healthcare professionals, what’s happening now is similar to what they’ve dealt with in the past.

“I’m very confident that we have a lot of learnings that have come from our previous experience with SARS, H1N1, even those horrific events at the time around Ebola,” Christine Sorensen, president of the B.C. Nurses Union, explains. “So I think we need to look at the fact that the health care system and science has learned a lot about the control of communicable disease in these kinds of outbreak situations.”

Sorensen says it’s business as usual for nurses, and adds they’re asked to ensure they follow all protocols. That includes making sure they’re up to date with worksite and unit exposure control plans, and that their N-95 masks are checked and ready to go.

“That is the N-95 mask fitness testing that they are expected to do annually in their health care facility, and they continue to utilize personal protective equipment as they’ve been directed to do with any patient coming in the door who may be harbouring an infectious disease,” she explains.

The Hospital Employees’ Union says while health care workers are concerned as the virus spreads, it is doing what it can to make sure the proper protocols are in place.

“We are in the early stages of the response to the coronavirus here in B.C., so I think a lot of those protocols are being implemented as we speak,” Mike Old, Coordinator Policy and Planning at at the HEU, says.

He adds there’s no need to panic, and says staff have experience with this type of thing.

“We learned a lot during the SARS outbreak in 2003,” he says, echoing Sorensen’s point. “We’re confident that the health system in B.C. is doing everything it can to be ready to respond to possible issues with the coronavirus here in B.C.”

Three cases of infection have been confirmed in Canada — two in the Toronto-area and one in the Metro Vancouver region.

More than 7,700 cases of the virus have been reported in China as well as a dozen other countries, but so far, deaths have been contained to China. The death toll because of the virus is currently 170.

Both the BCNU and HEU say they’re in regular contact with health authorities like Vancouver Coastal Health to ensure they have the latest information.

“We are reminding our members and the public to follow information provided by credible sources — which includes the Centre for Disease Control and the provincial health officer,” Sorensen says. “We are recommending that nurses follow the health authority protocols that they will put in place for managing infectious disease.”

She says the most important thing for people to remember, especially during the Wuhan coronavirus outbreak as well as flu season, is to wash hands frequently, stay home if you are sick, wear a mask if you show symptoms and need to head out, and to call ahead of time if you need to see the doctor and tell them about your symptoms.

-With files from Lasia Kretzel