PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center officials clarified details around a recent COVID-19 outbreak at a media briefing Monday afternoon.
PeaceHealth Southwest Chief Medical Officer Dr. Lawrence Neville said a report released by the hospital on New Year’s Day had the incorrect number of infected patients.
PeaceHealth confirmed Monday afternoon that 19 patients were infected in the coronavirus cluster, which broke out on or around Dec. 27 in a medical surgery ward at the hospital. Another 11 hospital staff were infected, Neville said.
The hospital initially asked 85 staff to self-quarantine because of potential COVID-19 exposure. That number has now dropped to 59 staff, but Neville said the hospital postponed some elective surgeries to shift staff around and boost workforce.
All inpatients are tested upon admittance to the hospital, Neville said, and none of the affected patients tested positive for the virus upon admission.
It’s likely the outbreak started because a patient tested negative upon admittance, with the virus still incubating and undetectable in them, and later became contagious enough to spread the virus in the hospital, Neville said.
PeaceHealth Southwest has not found evidence of staff not wearing personal protective equipment. Neville said everything in the hospital’s investigation has shown that staff were being vigilant and safe. He said patients are asked to wear masks when others are in the room with them.
The hospital has collected samples from the cluster for genomic testing to see if this outbreak has any connection to the more transmissible variant of the virus, B.1.1.7., that was first spotted in the United Kingdom and has since been discovered in at least three states. Neville said it will take 10 to 15 days to get those results back.
The hospital still doesn’t know how the virus was able to spread from the first sick patient to other patients and staff.
No staff has been exposed to this cluster since Dec. 28 and no patient has been exposed since Jan. 2, Neville said.
The unit where the outbreak occurred has been closed for new admissions since Dec. 29, and is undergoing deep cleaning.
“The investigation for the underlying cause continues. It remains unknown,” Neville said.
While Clark County saw a decrease in coronavirus cases the last two weeks, the county could still see surges tied to Christmas and New Year’s gatherings.
Monday’s coronavirus report from Clark County Public Health suggested that might manifest this week. Typically, people will get tested for the virus at least five to seven days after exposure, once symptoms have appeared and testing can be lined up.
The test results reported Monday fall at the tail end of that timeline. Clark County averaged 195 cases per day over Thursday through Sunday, which is up from 83 cases per day during the last week of December.
PeaceHealth has avoided large outbreaks like this one while treating hundreds of COVID-19 patients for the last 10 months, which Neville said is proof that the hospital has been safe and cautious. But he also noted that increased virus activity in the community will be a problem for everyone.
“The chances of it entering our homes, our places of work and other hospitals is unfortunately higher,” Neville said.
Monday also marked the first day PeaceHealth Southwest began administering the second and final dose of the vaccine to its staff.
The first dose of the vaccine confers about 50 percent effectiveness against coronavirus, Neville said, but the second dose, which must be received at least three weeks after the first one, boosts that effectiveness rate close to 95 percent.
PeaceHealth Southwest held its first vaccine clinic on Dec. 16. Neville said less than 5 percent of PeaceHealth Southwest’s staff had declined to get vaccinated. Overall, the Vancouver hospital has vaccinated 50 percent of its staff so far, and PeaceHealth St. John Medical Center in Longview has vaccinated about 49 percent of its staff.