KITCHENER -- The Ontario Nurses’ Association (ONA) is calling for St. Mary’s General Hospital in Kitchener to work with them on testing and support after they say more than 50 nurses were exposed to the coronavirus.

“This is a clear example of what should never happen in health care,” ONA president Vicki McKenna said Saturday in a statement. “This province cannot afford to take chances with the health of our front-line nurses and health-care workers – patients will need them more than ever in the coming weeks.”

The association claims the nurses were exposed while caring for a patient.

“Registered nurses were exposed while caring for a patient who presented at the emergency department and was screened for influenza, but not COVID-19,” said McKenna. “Nurses were exposed as they performed emergency medical procedures on the patient that made the virus borne by air; the patient was not isolated. And worst of all, nurses were unable to access N95 respirators when they performed the procedures, as their employer strongly discourages nurses wearing them.”

McKenna said that more nurses were exposed to COVID-19 by a coworker and that several have become sick.

UPDATE: Read the response from the president of St. Mary's General Hospital.

“I am calling on St. Mary’s Hospital to work openly, honestly and collaboratively with ONA," she said. "To expedite COVID-19 testing for all nurses and health-care workers who were exposed, support them as they await their results, ensure that screening protocols are followed and proper protective equipment is worn.”

A statement from St. Mary’s General Hospital President Lee Fairclough said the health and safety of patients and staff is the hospital's priority.

“St. Mary’s first priority is the health and safety of our staff and patients. We can reassure patients and family that their care is safe in our hospital. As we have managed through, and are preparing for the COVID-19 in our community and hospital, St. Mary’s has worked proactively to comply quickly with new directives, to ensure we are meeting all standards of safety in the use of personal protective equipment, and how we are caring for our patients,” said Fairclough.

According to Fairclough, St. Mary’s has a strong infection prevention and control policies that align with provincial standards.

In this incident the statement says hospital staff acted quickly to contain the risk.

“Extensive investigation and follow up has occurred with staff who were potentially exposed since we learned of a patient’s positive test result for COVID-19 on Thursday, March 19, St. Mary’s can confirm that over 50 staff, including nurses, were at risk of potential exposure. We have referred six staff who were symptomatic to public health for fast tracked testing,” said Fairclough.

Bothe ONA and Fairclough confirm the Ontario Ministry of Labour has been contacted about this incident.