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The National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg has had a scare after two of their employees and one of their close contacts have tested positive for COVID-19. Staff were informed of the news on Thursday, prompting the facility to execute a variety protocols in response, according to CBC.
Steven Guercio, executive director of lab confirmed that all three are currently in self-isolation via an email issued to lab staff, "Manitoba Health has initiated contact tracing," said Guercio. Contact tracing is the practice of figuring out everyone else that may have come in contact with an infected person prior to receiving their test results.
"As a proactive measure, Facility Occupational Health and Safety has initiated a risk assessment and will ask potential at-risk contacts to isolate at home pending full contact tracing by Manitoba Health," continued Guercio.
"Close contacts identified through contact tracing will receive direction from MB Health on testing and isolation requirements."
The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) is in charge of the microbiology lab. A spokesperson for the agency said that they are following all necessary procedures to ensure that the workplace is properly disinfected.
Staff at the laboratory will continue to practice hand washing, respiratory etiquette and social distancing. Staff that are able to work either remotely or from home are doing so. The lab's operations are able to to continue even with sick and absent staff, according to Eric Morrisette, a PHAC spokesperson.
"It is not unexpected that we would see cases amongst our workforce as COVID-19 infection is circulating in our community," said Morrisette. "We wish our employees a speedy recovery and are thinking of them and their families during this difficult time."
Debi Daviau, president of the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada, said that contact tracing has been conducted on all three confirmed cases by Health Canada. Any close contacts they discovered were quickly tested and then sent home while they await results. Contacts that were considered to be 'non-close' were also tested although they are able to remain at work. Should any results come back positive they too will be sent home for self-isolation.
The lab had already been conducting research on SARS-CoV-2, which it the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. According to Daviau, they are trying to find out what animal would best suit as a model for researching a treatment and vaccine for the virus. In addition to that, the lab is also looking at ways to sterilize N95 masks so that they may be reused.
"They are working around the clock. Their work is critical. They are working with the virus, so the potential for exposure is high," said Daviau. "These members are some of Canada's unsung heroes."
"PHAC responded rapidly, and fortunately, due to onsite infectious disease experts, they've implemented responsive testing, tracing and isolation measures. We appreciate the urgent action and support for the safety of the employees at the site," said Daviau.