A person who works in the same Victoria office building as Dr. Bonnie Henry has been infected by the coronavirus, theBreaker.news has learned.
Neither the provincial health officer nor NDP Health Minister Adrian Dix have disclosed the case to the media. A prominent union leader says it is another reason why communication must be improved.
A staff memo on Nov. 25 said a person on the second floor of 1515 Blanshard, the six-storey headquarters of the Ministry of Health, tested positive and the ministry was informed late last week.
Henry‘s office is on the fourth floor. The second floor houses the ministry’s finance office.
“Immediate steps were taken, facilities was advised and immediately implemented additional cleaning protocols at the location,“ said the memo, which was leaked to theBreaker.news. “Public health was notified of the positive result and spoke to the COVID-19 positive individual. Contact tracing was conducted to identify anyone who was in close contact with the employee in the workplace.”
The memo said those in close contact were notified directly and advised to self-isolate. However, there were complaints from staff who were not told that someone in the building had been infected.
“The reporting of a positive case in our workplace was a new experience for us. There are clear protocols in place from public health and also the public service as an employer, with a need to balance transparency while protecting the identity of the individual. Since this occurrence, we have heard from staff about the impact of notifying only staff located on the second floor,” said the memo.
“This has been a huge learning for us. We appreciate your feedback and we will be taking a broader communication approach should this happen again.“
Stephanie Smith, president of the BC Government and Service Employees Union, said in an interview that she was aware of the case at the ministry headquarters. She did not know whether the ill person is a member of BCGEU or a manager.
Smith said communication must be improved, because one department is informed and another is kept in the dark.
“If local occupational health and safety committee members are not being pulled into the loop, there is clearly a lag time in that information,” Smith said. “That lag time where nobody is fully aware of what is happening is a perfect window and a perfect time for the further spread [of the virus].”
The building is named for Richard Blanshard, the first colonial governor of Vancouver Island from 1849-1851 and was originally the Vancouver Island headquarters of the B.C. Electric Co.
Henry announced a single-day record of 911 new cases on Nov. 27 and a further 11 deaths in the province. A total 395 people have died in B.C. from the virus and total cases will exceed the 31,000-mark over the weekend. Henry did not disclose how many cases are active.
Currently, 301 people are hospitalized, including 69 in critical care or intensive care. Another 10,430 people in B.C. have been exposed and are being monitored for symptoms.
A reporter asked Henry generally about the risk to workplaces on Nov. 27, but she did not mention her own.
“Where we see transmission happening is often between staff, staff-to-staff,” she said. “We work with people every day and we forget that we bring that risk that we have in our home, in our community with us to our workplace too.”
Henry said workers should avoid sitting next to each other at lunchtime or gathering in small break rooms without masks. WorkSafeBC is stepping-up inspections and staff at government offices are allowed to work from home until at least the new year.
B.C. was considered a star in North America during the pandemic’s first wave in the spring, but its second wave case rate this fall is among the worst in Canada.
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