Whitehorse Daily Star

Patient queries hospital staff’s tendency not to wear masks

A Yukon senior who visited Whitehorse General Hospital for blood tests last Friday said he was startled to see staff weren’t wearing masks.

By Gabrielle Plonka on May 29, 2020

A Yukon senior who visited Whitehorse General Hospital for blood tests last Friday said he was startled to see staff weren’t wearing masks.

Nor did they keep a two-metre distance from others.

“I was very surprised at this,” Murray Martin told the Star Wednesday afternoon.

“This is a hospital and they’re right within a foot or two of people who are sick and coming in for blood tests and dealing with patients.”

Martin said he wore a mask while visiting the hospital. He was stopped by an employee at the door who asked him screening questions and requested he wash his hands before entering.

While waiting to receive a blood test, Martin said, he counted 39 hospital employees without masks.

“Out of 39, there were only two who avoided coming within a few feet of patients,” Martin said.

“It just rather surprised me that our hospital wasn’t paying more attention to this virus that is spreading around, especially when they’re figuring we may have another big burst of this coming this fall.”

Martin said he felt wary of having to visit the hospital during a pandemic, so took extra precautions to arrive with his own personal protective equipment.

“Although I had a mask on, it did definitely make me feel unsafe … at one point, I felt like getting up and just walking out of there,” Martin said.

“I don’t look forward to going into the hospital with that amount of people, and people really not paying attention to this virus.”

The chairs in the waiting room are spaced six feet apart, but people were standing between the chairs. Martin felt that neither patients nor staff appeared to take the safety measures seriously.

Martin said he is conscious of taking extra precautions because he has endured previous virus epidemics.

“I’ve lived through it before; I’m 87 and was born in 1933; there were a lot of diseases we had to deal with,” Martin said.

“I wear the mask because I came up through the measles, the mumps, the scarlet fever.

“I saw a lot of young people –because I was young then – I saw a lot of people die from the diseases that we had.

“The diseases now seem to be much stronger; when we say this is worldwide, this is not something to take lightly.”

Matt Davidson, of Yukon Hospital Corp. communications, told the Star in an email on Tuesday that Yukoners should feel confident their hospitals are following every necessary safety procedure.

“The hospitals are safe environments,” Davidson said.

“At this time, not everyone needs to wear a mask when in hospital.”

The hospital corporation has screening criteria and personal protective equipment policies in place, Davidson said. These policies were developed with Dr. Brendan Hanley, the chief medical officer.

The Yukon’s hospitals are also strictly limiting the number of people in hospitals to limit foot traffic and enable physical distancing, with no walk-in outpatient services, floor markings and seating restrictions, Davidson said.

“Every effort is made within available resources to monitor and enforce these measures,” Davidson said.

The hospitals have the ability to bend these measures accordingly if there is a surge of the virus in the territory, he noted.

Martin, meanwhile, said he’s noticed many Yukoners ignoring physical distancing recommendations outside the hospital. If more people had lived through other virus outbreaks, he suggested, they might be more likely to follow the rules.

“I find that a lot of people under the age of 40 that haven’t had this experience, they’re ignoring all those safety points that scientists are pushing for people to follow.”

Noticing the number of people who congregate at local grocery stores, for example, has prompted Martin to do his shopping early in the mornings during the opening hours for seniors.

He has noticed that about 60 per cent of seniors shop with masks on during those early hours.

Martin said he hopes Yukoners will start to take the virus precautions more seriously, with the expectation that the virus may return to the territory.

“I think a lot of people are ignoring it, they’re getting bored and they’re, shall we say, letting their pants down,” Martin said.

“I honestly believe that we’re only seeing the beginning of what’s coming, because these diseases nowadays seem to last longer.

“I think people ought to get serious and realize this pandemic is not over.”

Last Friday afternoon, Martin said he also had an optometrist appointment – and the staff there were wearing masks.

“I was pleased to see that,” Martin said.

Comments (13)

Up 9 Down 1

Groucho d'North on Jun 4, 2020 at 10:18 am

I am curious as to where the general public can now purchase masks following the demonizing of Canadian Tire a few weeks back when they had a healthy inventory of prophylactic products for sale when hospitals and first responders did not have an adequate inventory for their use and protection. So Canadian Tire donated these products to government agencies as a good corporate citizen, but now the public is without and people are getting bent out of shape on who and when we should be wearing masks that are harder to acquire. Has government procurement caught up yet to ensure their staff have the appropriate PPE so that retailers can once again provide the products the public is anxious to buy?

Up 20 Down 11

Can't win on Jun 3, 2020 at 3:35 pm

@iBrian If pandemic restrictions are effective and few people get sick, then people complain that it was all unnecessary. If nothing was done and many people died, then those same people would complain that too little was done.

The medical authorities can't win when people think like this.

Up 14 Down 3

Wilf Carter on Jun 3, 2020 at 1:16 pm

I was taken to the hospital by AMB last week from my home and they took every precaution there is for the virus by suiting up and before I got to the hospital they went through list of questions and tests to see if I had CV19. When I got in the hospital they used masks and face guards both until they determined I was not a case for CV19 but had other issues.

Up 20 Down 4

My thoughts on Jun 3, 2020 at 8:33 am

Patients are screened as they walk in the door. Technically there should be no one with active cases in the Yukon and if someone has traveled, they'd be suited up and so would the staff dealing with them if they needed to go to the hospital for anything. Prior to that, they were going to the respiratory center which just closed (so when this man went, that was open so there should not have been anyone with possible exposure in the hospital).

Might as well reserve the PPE for if/when its required again just in case there is another big outbreak and shortage of PPE.
If people are concerned, they should be protecting themselves first as they should be their own first concern--not everyone else.

Up 26 Down 13

Reality on Jun 1, 2020 at 3:34 pm

Davidson and Hanley are talking out of both sides of their faces. When the first asymptomatic case of COVID walks through that door into a group of youngsters and elderly with chronic conditions wandering the halls....then they'll spend the money on PPE that should be mandatory right now.
In the meantime, let's run it as Starbucks used to be. Open the bars and festivals!
Stop telling the public what to do when you don't do it yourself!

Up 32 Down 7

Mr M on Jun 1, 2020 at 10:11 am

Do as I say not as I do.

Up 25 Down 6

Joe on May 31, 2020 at 10:14 pm

Obviously it’s not a problem.

Up 19 Down 4

Zing! on May 31, 2020 at 9:27 pm

“Last Friday afternoon, Martin said he also had an optometrist appointment – and the staff there were wearing masks.
‘I was pleased to see that,’ Martin said.”


Up 40 Down 28

Natasha on May 30, 2020 at 10:55 am

Yes shocking to hear this! Hospital staff go into community, could come into contact with an a symptomatic carrier, not knowing they have the virus. They then carry it too. What do these people not understand - our health workers?? News broadcasts worldwide advise of all health workers to/are be wearing masks. We have been locked down and businesses closed due to virus, but hospital is not serious? Are they different than the rest?

Up 36 Down 15

SheepChaser on May 30, 2020 at 9:55 am

Mr. Martin,

Your point is well taken, sir. Why would the hospital not consider their site a high risk location? Since we're doing well here so far, maybe the full N95 mask would be overkill at the moment, but a simple surgical mask to block droplets from sneezes, coughs and talking would be a reasonable precaution, no? Especially in an environment where staff must get close to some patients!

Given the type of disease, the transmission vector, what we know about the overlap of the asymptomatic and contagious periods... By the time we figure out there's even a cluster, it might already be an outbreak. On the other hand if they are short on supplies and conserving for an outbreak they feel is inevitable here at some point, it might be one of those imperfect but necessary decisions.

Up 41 Down 43

iBrian on May 30, 2020 at 7:11 am

Seeing as we have no active cases, I am not seeing the point in the masks.
Also. Now that time has passed and this Covid19 hasn’t killed nearly a fraction of what WHO said it would.
I think that if your immune compromised, you should take care of your health.
Sorry, but at the end of the day we are responsible for ourselves.
Maybe take a cue from the hospital staff and except the media has hyped this way over the top and it’s not as bad as we’ve been brain washed to believe.

Up 41 Down 32

Resident on May 29, 2020 at 11:36 pm

I'm sorry you had this experience Mr. Martin. Yukon Exceptionalism runs strong in Whitehorse and people just believe that nothing will ever affect them. And most of the time, they're right. Where else can you have GDP growth and a housing boom during a global recession?

If this virus makes a foothold in the Yukon, it's going to run through this town like a hot knife through butter.

Up 24 Down 64

Matthew on May 29, 2020 at 5:37 pm

Well Martin, what did you expect? Not one COVID case went to the hospital... most nurses and doctors know it's only a virus. And they can only grow in environments where the pH level is not balanced.. balance pH, live a healthy life and NEVER get sick again. Don't believe me? Research!

Add your comments or reply via Twitter @whitehorsestar

In order to encourage thoughtful and responsible discussion, website comments will not be visible until a moderator approves them. Please add comments judiciously and refrain from maligning any individual or institution. Read about our user comment and privacy policies.

Your name and email address are required before your comment is posted. Otherwise, your comment will not be posted.