MONTREAL -- A group of nurses at the Montreal General Hospital has signed a petition calling for better protection from COVID-19.

The petition comes after the nurses received an email from a superior on Sunday to continue working after they may have been exposed to a patient with COVID-19. The nurses say their superior told them not reveal this information to hospital security.

The nurses all work in the dialysis clinic at the hospital. They told CTV that last Tuesday, a regular patient came in for dialysis treatment and many were in proximity with the patient. On Saturday, the patient returned for another regular treatment with symptoms described as a “cold.” The patient was given a mask and underwent a COVID-19 test. Results came back a day later that the patient was positive. 

That same evening, nurses on the unit were sent an email advising them of the development but say they were told that the “situation was being reviewed very seriously” by two doctors on the team and the hospital’s occupational health and safety department. 

The email also said in bold “this patient did not at all fit the picture of a patient who should have been screened and it required a fair amount of push from our team to get the swab done as it was being refused by ER as this patient was assumed or have a 'regular cold.’ Do not tell the security guard tomorrow morning that you may have been exposed, answer the questions about symptoms and exposure to people who have travelled to the unit, put on a mask as we sort through the situation.” 

The email went on to say that anyone symptomatic should not come to work and would be contacted by occupational health and safety.

Some nurses, however, say they are as alarmed by the email as they are by the possibility that they might have been infected. 

“They are basically asking us to withhold information from security and potentially put our health and the health of others, including our families, at risk,” said one. 

When asked if they could know which patient tested positive, the nurses said they were told no, citing confidentiality. 

“The buzzword they are using with us now is ‘risk exposure,’” said the nurse. “Were you in proximity for more than ten minutes with the patient or within six feet? We feel if they start sending people home, they won’t have staff, so they are telling us to come in.”

McGill University Health Care media relations advisor Annie-Claire Fournier said the health centre took all precautions once it realized there was an issue.

“As soon as the situation was known, all protection protocols were put in place and the employees were identified,” she said. “The MUHC takes this very seriously and an assessment is underway to better understand the circumstances of that situation.”

On Monday afternoon, Premier Francois Legault and the province’s director of public health Dr. Horacio Arruda again called on people to stay home and for those who may be infected to be honest. 

“The time for lying is over,” said Arruda. 

The email to the nurses apologizes for having to disturb them on a Sunday evening when they should be relaxing but goes on to say, “I believe transparency and honesty are what will help us pull together as a team and get through the next several weeks. Dialysis Strong.” 

The nurses have now signed a petition calling for better protection. The petition also asks for more N95 masks which can prevent inhalation of airborne droplets of COVID-19 and protective clothing, something they say they had already been asking for.

“We are in a unique situation. We are in an out-clinic where our patients come in and go home. They may be leaving us and coming into contact with other infected people and then coming back here. We need more protection,” said a nurse. 

“We work in an open-concept room so several nurses were exposed,” said another nurse who contacted CTV.

She is concerned that they were not told to go into isolation and believes the hospital is not handling this properly. 

“Everyone expected that everyone who treated the patient would be quarantined but they are all together today in an open room,” she said. 

On Monday afternoon, unaware of the situation at the dialysis clinic, Health Minister Danielle McCann said, “From day one we have protocols that are implemented and we are reinforcing it.”

She again thanked all of the people in the health sector and private sector who are working to make equipment to better protect them, “So that we get our staff completely protected. There is no zero risk, I understand, but as much as possible protected.” 

“Morale is horrible, horrible,” said one nurse in the unit on Monday. “More patients are getting sick and we are having to swab them as we speak.” 

CTV News put in a request for information from the nurses' union for this story, but has not heard back.