Several staff members at Virginia Mason Medical Center in Seattle have tested positive for COVID-19.
Four people “who work in or near” the hospital’s operating rooms have tested positive for the disease caused by the novel coronavirus within the span of one week, a Virginia Mason spokesman confirmed in response to an inquiry from The Seattle Times.
In a statement, the spokesman, media-relations manager Gale Robinette, said that each staff member who tested positive has been treated and will stay home for at least two weeks in accordance with Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines.
“We have not identified any risk of exposure to patients, as these team members were always wearing appropriate personal protective equipment while in their presence,” Robinette said. “Our Employee Health Department is closely monitoring the situation and performing surveillance testing of other team members as a precaution. Protecting the health and safety of patients and team members is our highest priority.”
After three employees tested positive for the virus within the past week, surveillance testing of more than 650 other staff members discovered one other employee had developed COVID-19. Robinette did not respond to questions about how many patients those staff members came in contact with or whether they would be notified and tested.
A spokesman for Public Health — Seattle & King County was not aware of the COVID-19 cases at Virginia Mason on Sunday morning. Hospitals are responsible for determining the type of personal protective equipment (PPE) employees use in clinical situations, using guidance from the CDC and the Washington State Department of Health, the spokesman said in an email.
Hospitals are required to report staff COVID-19 infections weekly to Public Health – Seattle & King County.
That didn’t happen with these four cases. One of the cases was reported to Public Health – Seattle & King County last week and all four showed up on this week’s submission, which came in on Monday.
“We’ve spoken with Virginia Mason’s infection control team and clarified that we would appreciate more timely notification when clusters of two or more workers are identified and they are open to improving that communication pathway,” said James Apa, a spokesperson for Public Health – Seattle & King County.
The CDC recommends health care workers wearing face masks even when caring for patients not suspected of having COVID-19 and Robinette said Virginia Mason follows CDC guidelines on PPE.
The risk of transmitting the virus is slim if a health care worker is masked as well as a patient, said Dr. Hilary Babcock, professor of medicine, infectious disease division at Washington University School of Medicine.
“According to the CDC guidance and most occupational health programs, if both people are masked it’s not considered an exposure,” she said.
Seattle Times staff reporter Ryan Blethen contributed to this report.