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Protect yourself from the new coronavirus: What York Region hospitals are doing

Mackenzie Health, Southlake and Markham-Stouffville set up screening for Wuhan virus
Jan. 27, 2020
Kim Zarzour

When SARS caused a worldwide health panic 17 years ago, Richmond Hill’s Mackenzie Health became a global hot spot.

This time around, with concern growing around the spread of coronavirus 2019-nCoV, the local hospital isn’t taking any chances.

With an “abundance of caution,” Dr. Danny Chen, physician lead in infection prevention and control, says Mackenzie has implemented new protections against the spread of the mysterious illness that originated in Wuhan, China.

SARS left its mark on York Region, killing 86 residents and making it North America's second-largest centre, after Toronto, for the outbreak.

The disease quickly spread through the GTA, via an infected woman returning to Toronto from Hong Kong, to Scarborough Grace hospital and then to Mackenzie Health.

The Richmond Hill hospital was closed for 20 days.

Lessons were learned from that first pandemic panic, and community hospitals say they're making prevention a top priority.

Earlier this month, Chen said, Mackenzie Health let staff know a new threat was brewing; two weeks ago, the hospital began implementing additional screening.

Today, patients arriving at emergency department are automatically screened for contagious symptoms --coughing, shortness of breath, diarrhea, rash --and they are asked about their travel history.

Outpatients, too, are screened at automated kiosks that ask about respiratory health. If symptoms are present, they are prompted to wear masks available at the kiosk and to notify their health-care providers.

Patients exhibiting symptoms are advised to don masks or face shields if they are to be among other patients; and if they are in a room to be assessed by health-care workers, staff wear gloves, gowns, masks and face shields.

Patients are also asked about where they have travelled in the last 14 days. China is a red flag, and nurse and physicians then do a deeper dive into where they were in China and with whom they were in contact, Chen said.

Travel to the Arabian Peninsula is also a red flag because of the risk of ongoing transmission of Middle East respiratory syndrome(MERS).

Those deemed high risk with fever and respiratory symptoms are put in an airborne isolation room, a separate part of the hospital that is ventilated to the outside.

Unlike during the SARS outbreak, Mackenzie’s health screening is easier today, Chen says, thanks to an electronic medical records system with automated screening prompts.

But there is still much unknown about 2019-nCoV, he says.

“Those answers will not come until some time has passed and we can see how transmissible the virus is, whether it is moving person to person easily and how severe it is. Right now, the rate of increase in cases being reported is concerning. We can’t calculate fatality rate yet --but it seems to be less severe, so far.

"Past experience has shown that these viruses are not predictable. The best approach (for health-care institutions) is preparation and flexibility.”

Physicians, hospitals and other health-care facilities are expected to report any suspected or confirmed cases of novel coronavirus to York Region Public Health in order to prevent and control further transmission.

Here's what York Region’s other two local hospitals are doing to protect you:

Markham-Stouffville Hospital:

“On Jan. 3, York Region Public Health informed Markham Stouffville Hospital (MSH) of the illness” The hospital routinely screens patients for respiratory symptoms and recent travel and, since Jan. 3, we have added screening for travel from Wuhan. MSH has developed a streamlined process to care for patients whose screening may deem them to be high risk.

"It is important to note that we screen all our patients according to best-practice recommendations and guidance from Public Health Ontario and closely follow infection prevention and control standards.

"As per the Public Health Agency of Canada, the risk in Ontario remains low, and at this time no confirmed cases have been reported in Canada. We will continue to work with our Public Health partners and update our processes as directed by their guidance.”

Southlake Regional Health Care

"Southlake’s screening policies and procedures are designed to identify a broad range of illness, including new and emerging viruses.

"All Southlake patients are screened for travel history and signs/symptoms of communicable illness to ensure we keep patients, visitors and staff safe.

"Patients with travel history to Wuhan, China, would trigger additional screening at admissions and anyone with signs/symptoms of acute respiratory illness will be placed on Respiratory/Contact precautions."


If you need to visit the hospital, here’s what you need to know:

You may notice increased signage advising you to be attentive to hand hygiene and “respiratory etiquette” (cough into sleeve or elbow, not hands).

When you arrive, if you have a cough, use a face mask.

If you are a visitor and not feeling well and don’t need to go to the hospital, stay home.

For more information on the signs and symptoms of coronavirus and what to do, visit Government of Canada‘s website.