SEATTLE, WA — A coronavirus outbreak in a surgical care unit at Seattle’s Harborview Medical Center has infected 10 health care workers and four patients, including one who died from the illness, the hospital announced Friday.
Dr. John Lynch, director of Harborview’s Infection Control program, said the patient who died had “a number of comorbidities” and was taken to an intensive care unit. Three of the patients had been at Harborview for more than two weeks, meaning they likely were infected at the hospital, Lynch said. The infected staff members have not required hospitalization and are recovering in isolation at home.
The outbreak is Harborview’s first, Lynch said. According to the Washington State Department of Health, at least 321 outbreaks have been associated with health care facilities. Recent ones were recorded at Kirkland’s EvergreenHealth and Bremerton’s St. Michael Medical Center.
Harborview identified the first illnesses associated with the outbreak at the beginning of October, Lynch said, prompting officials to close the unit to new admissions and test all patients and staff. The unit is for non-intensive care and a place where patients often are treated before and after surgery.
Hospital leadership is still determining how the virus made its way into the facility. Lynch said the hospital performed genome sequencing on all of the viruses, which returned similar results, and are examining staffing records for overlaps when the outbreak occurred. While the source remains unknown, Lynch said it is likely to have originated from a health care worker exposed to the virus in their everyday lives.
“I’m not blaming anyone,” Lynch said. “This is really a problem of the larger pandemic and the impact it’s having on people.
Nine months into the pandemic, and with “COVID fatigue” setting in for so many, gaps in precautions can take place both on and off the job.
“This is a virus that preys upon any variation in behavior,” Lynch said. “We have very robust personal protective equipment to keep health care workers safe and to keep patients safe. But, when we vary from that, in any way, shape, or form — in the community, or at work — this virus takes advantage of it.”
Harborview identified 30 potential exposures among medical staff who were not always wearing eye protection. Lynch said each staffer is quarantining out of an abundance of caution.
Another challenge, Lynch said, is rising coronavirus transmission throughout King County, which creates the conditions that make an outbreak more likely to occur, even with robust precautionary measures in place.
“Until we get community levels under better control, all health care facilities, all health care workers are going to be at increased risk,” Lynch said. “Where we are in our rate, approaching 100 cases per 100,000 over the last 14 days — that is an unacceptably high rate, and it puts both our community and our hospitals at a very high risk.”
The unit remains closed to new admissions and thorough outbreak surveillance is continuing