MONTREAL -- While Quebec has seen just a single confirmed case of coronavirus, Jewish General Hospital staff were assuring the public on Monday they are ready for a larger pandemic should the disease spread.

The Jewish General is one of two designated response hospitals in Montreal. A portion of one floor was renovated in 2016 to handle pandemic diseases following an outbreak of Swine Flu.

“We had issues with H1N1. We didn’t go through SARS but we certainly learned from our colleagues in Toronto. Same with MRSA,” said the hospital’s director of professional services Louise Miner. “We knew with H1N1 we had to be ready for a pandemic, which could happen any year at any given time. This is one emerging virus but it’s not the last one.”

Twenty-four rooms in the hospital’s K Pavillion are equipped with specialized ventilation systems designed to ensure virulent diseases can’t spread. While the rooms are used day-to-day as part of the hospital’s neurology department, they can be pressed into service as a quarantine unit should the need arise.

“All 24 rooms have the capacity for negative pressure,” said Miner. “The rooms are special because negative pressure means the air around the patient is being sucked out of the room faster than you’re pumping air into the room. That air is filtered and evacuated, it’s not recirculated anywhere in the institution.”


Joanne Cote, the hospital’s director of quality, innovation, evaluation and performance said protocols have long been in place should Montreal face a highly contagious disease. Among those being reviewed are buddy systems for nurses to ensure their colleagues are putting on and taking off protective gear correctly.

“The physical environment remains the same whatever type of endemic we face,” she said. “What changes as we learn more on a daily basis is how the protocol has to be adjusted,” such as monitoring whether some potential COVID-19 patients have travelled to countries with extensive outbreaks.

Protocols are refined as both hospital management and front-line staff undergo simulations.

“Simulation is the best way to make sure a team is ready,” said Cote. “When we started to hear about coronavirus, it was an opportunity to make sure we were really ready.”

Miner said those simulations include table-top rehearsals involving general planning as well as actual scenarios with actors on stretchers.


Jewish General chief of infection control Yves Longtin said the coronavirus is nothing new for medical professionals. He said the virus is actually the third of its type that has arisen in the past 15 years.

“This coronavirus is actually a member of a family of viruses we’ve know for years, it’s the normal cold virus. It’s just this one is so new and we know so little about it that we have to be very cautious and make sure we interrupt transmission as much as possible until we know a little bit more. We’re really playing it safe right now.”

He added that while some people have come to the hospital to be tested for coronavirus, none have yet tested positive. Still, should the disease spread widely, backup plans are in place to transfer non-coronavirus patients to other hospitals to increase their capacity to treat those with positive results.

Miner added that the majority of coronavirus patients will not need to be hospitalized and will be sent home to recover in isolation.

“If a patient is too sick to go home, and there’s not a strict definition for this, those patients are usually older, usually have other conditions like heart disease and diabetes and are not well enough to go home and take care of themselves,” she said. “Those are the patients that are hospitalized.”