A health care worker employed by Nova Scotia Health in the Central Zone has tested positive for COVID-19. Eight co-workers are also off work self-isolating, according to Wendy Walters, a communications advisor employed by Nova Scotia Health.
Walters said the cause of the infection is under investigation by Public Health. The Halifax Examiner has learned the person is a nurse who works at a Halifax hospital who had at least one vaccination shot.
Walters said Nova Scotia Health is unable to confirm or deny that information because it would breach the employee’s right to privacy under the Personal Health Information Act. Even though thousands of nurses work in the Central Zone, the Act prohibits the release of any information such as job classification or location that might help identify the affected person.
“Health care workers are entitled to privacy and protected under Personal Health Information Act as much as patients are,” wrote Walters in an email. “Any details we provide might reveal to others who that individual is, particularly when we are currently talking about one individual. Just as we can’t share any patient’s information with others outside their circle of care, it is not another employee’s right to provide the personal health information of a peer.”
This case involving a health care worker is separate from another case reported by Public Health Saturday afternoon. That positive test involved an employee working at Glasgow Hall, a Shannex long-term care residence on Baker Drive in Dartmouth.
“We know the COVID-19 vaccines are effective at preventing serious illness and death from COVID-19 and thankfully almost all of the residents at Glasgow Hall have been fully vaccinated,” said Dr. Robert Strang, Nova Scotia’s chief medical officer of health in a news release. “Based on recent experience in Canada, I anticipate that the vaccine will prevent widespread transmission in this facility and that anyone who does contract the virus will only have mild symptoms.”
The news release went on to say “as a precaution, residents of Glasgow Hall are being isolated and cared for in their rooms and all residents and staff are being tested.”
This is worrisome in light of the fact in New Brunswick last week, three people who had been vaccinated tested positive for COVID -19 and were admitted to hospital, where they recovered. New Brunswick’s Public Health Officer Dr. Jennifer Russell said it takes two to three weeks before the vaccine kicks in and more information about the effectiveness of vaccines is being gathered across the country.
In Nova Scotia, these two cases are the first in months involving employees working in health care. The Personal Health Information Act also forbids Nova Scotia Health from commenting on whether the employee who tested positive had been involved in caring for an 89-year-old patient and Order of Canada recipient, Clotilda Yakimchuk, who died in hospital Thursday. The death of Yakimchuk, the first black nurse to head the Registered Nurses Association of Nova Scotia, has been attributed to COVID.
Public Health may provide more information once contact tracing is complete. Meanwhile, lists of additional locations where people may have had possible exposure to the virus are being prepared.
As of today, Nova Scotia has 44 active cases of COVID-19.
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So do we know which vaccine(s) were used in these cases?
Jennifer Henderson has asked me to pass on the following:
“We don’t know anything more than we published Sunday. The Personal Health Information Act is also being used as a reason why NS Health can’t confirm if an individual was vaccinated, when, or with what vaccine. I’m told Public Health may have more to say about the immunity issue and vaccine effectiveness Tuesday. BTW, I fully support vaccines and would not want anyone to delay getting one!!”
Is the Protection of Health Information Act sometimes used inappropriately to manage public discussion and disclosure and/or applied to situations that are, in fact, not fully covered by the act? It may be that the act can be interpreted selectively by government stakeholders and health system administrators to ‘contain’ public access to information in ways that have little to do with protecting personal health data. I would highly recommend that the Examiner do more research on the act and its (mis)application, not only under the pandemic but more broadly in the context of challenges with public transparency in the health and long-term care system.