‘COVID almost killed them’: Winnipeg couple hospitalized days before Manitoba’s largest COVID-19 hospital outbreak

WINNIPEG — Since the COVID-19 pandemic broke out in March 2020, there has been a level of unpredictability with the disease.

John Dobbin and his parents could have never predicted they would have been part of the largest COVID-19 hospital outbreak in October 2020.

Dobbin’s parents were hospitalized on the fifth floor of the Victoria Hospital the day after Thanksgiving for non-COVID-related infections and the COVID-19 outbreak soon followed.

Mike and Gail Dobbin do everything together and they fought COVID together as well—something they almost didn’t survive.

“COVID almost killed them,” said John.

They were both able to fight through, but not without a price.

“They’re not the same as they were before.”

John says he remembers the day when he first learned about the outbreak.

“This was the week after Thanksgiving. I’m about to go up on the Thursday and they’re going, ‘Everybody stop, stop, stop. The elevator has been shut down.’ And they said out of an abundance of caution and they said there was somebody who’d been exposed.”

John said his mother tested positive a day later and then a few days later, his dad as well.

The outbreak was declared on Oct. 22, and according to the province, it would become the largest outbreak at a Manitoba hospital.

A spokesperson for the province told CTV News that 78 cases were connected to the outbreak in the 5N and 5S units.

Of the 78, 35 were patients and 43 were staff members. Fifteen people died because of the outbreak, one of which was a health-care aide.

“I’m thinking this is the last time I’m going to see my mom and dad,” said John.

Around a week after the outbreak was declared, a nurse from the hospital penned an open letter to Manitobans on social media saying the outbreak started with a patient who was transferred from St. Boniface Hospital.

The nurse said the rapid spread of COVID was preventable.

“No one working on the floor of Victoria General was notified that this patient was coming from a COVID-suspected ward. Even after St. Boniface declared their outbreak a day later, no notification was made. This patient walked the halls of Victoria General 5N for three days before coming down with COVID-like symptoms and was isolated,” the letter said.

“Hospitals were absolutely shocked. But the lack of communication about transfers, I mean, when they had an outbreak at St. Boniface, there was no contact to Victoria about this person might have been exposed,” said John.

A spokesperson for the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority (WRHA) said when patients are transferred between hospitals, their health information is sent along with them and that includes COVID-19 information.

Symptomatic patients were isolated at the time of the outbreak but there was no protocol for people with no symptoms according to the WRHA.

“In the event that further information about a patient is learned following a transfer, such as a new diagnosis of COVID, sites involved in the patient’s care would be advised. If a patient were transferred to another site, there would be communication between the sending and receiving sites about the now-positive status to ensure patient appropriately managed,” the spokesperson said.

The spokesperson said the correct PPE protocols were followed the entire time as well.

“Prior to the outbreak, the units in question have been designated Green. Green units only require eyewear and a mask. Once the outbreak was declared, the units became Red, which requires staff to also wear gowns and gloves.”

After 100 days in hospital, Mike and Gail were discharged in January and they are now living together in a long-term care home, although John says their health is in decline.

“My dad is definitely a fall hazard, much more so,” John said.

“Even now, I mean my mom doesn’t usually sleep in the afternoon and there she is out like a light. They’ve gone through the wringer.”

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