PeaceHealth Southwest provides update on COVID-19 outbreak

Fewer patients than previously announced were linked to a case from Dec. 27

VANCOUVER — NOTE: an earlier version of this story incorrectly stated six staff members had been linked to the outbreak. The actual number is 11. The story has been updated to reflect this correction.

Officials at PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center in Vancouver are still investigating how an outbreak of COVID-19 began, but now believe the number of staff and patients impacted is lower than first thought.

During an update Monday afternoon, the hospital’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Lawrence Neville, said they now believe a total of 19 patient infections were linked to the outbreak in one of their general medical surgical units, along with 11 staff members.

PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center in Vancouver was hit with a COVID-19 outbreak in late December. File Photo
PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center in Vancouver was hit with a COVID-19 outbreak in late December. File Photo

Neville said the earlier reported 30 patients stemmed from a decision to re-test all patients currently in the hospital. That turned up some other individuals who had also previously tested negative when they were admitted, but weren’t linked to the impacted unit. Neville said they don’t have any reason to believe those other 11 patients have led to other outbreaks at this point.

At this point, the hospital staff believes the outbreak was linked to a patient who was admitted around Christmas, initially testing negative. The patient became symptomatic on Dec. 27, and a follow-up test returned positive.

Two other patients, who were asymptomatic at the time, tested positive on Dec. 28. Neville said the surgical unit was shut down a day later, and remains closed for deep cleaning and the installation of ultra-violet lights in rooms to further help guard against reinfection.

Lawrence Neville, MD, is chief medical officer for PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Group. Photo via Zoom
Lawrence Neville, MD, is chief medical officer for PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Group. Photo via Zoom

Neville said they are also reinforcing guidelines for cleaning and use of PPE, as well as testing any other employees who may have been in the affected unit any time in the past 30 days.

A total of 59 staff members are currently self-quarantining, Neville said Monday, down from 86 late last week. 

The hospital was continuing its investigation into how the infected patient was able to potentially expose others. Neville said there had been no obvious breaches in their protocol of staff using personal protective equipment in rooms, and patients wearing masks when anyone else is in their room, or they have to be in the hallways.

Neville also said they have sent samples of the virus to a lab for genomic testing, to determine whether it might be one of the mutated strains now popping up across the country, which is thought to be 50-70 percent more contagious, though likely no more deadly than existing strains.

As of Monday morning, the hospital had 56 confirmed COVID-19 patients admitted, including eight who were in Intensive Care.

“This is a time of staffing crunch for us,” Neville admitted. “We did unilaterally and freely decide to stop some of our surgical procedures to redeploy staff to help with that.”

Neville said staff who may have been exposed but are not showing symptoms are also being encouraged to return to work, with extra precautions including daily testing and use of protective equipment.

Most of the staff members who had tested positive for COVID-19 had not yet received their first dose of vaccine, Neville said, though a few had. 

“The first dose does give about a 50 to 52 percent resistance to acquiring the virus,” he added. “So we’re optimistic that as more and more folks get vaccinated, we’ll be in better shape in terms of resisting clusters occurring in the future.”

Even if someone had been infected since receiving their first dose of the vaccine, Neville said they will be recommending that they still receive a second dose.

“In fact, today marks the day when we are starting our second dose administration for those eligible for that,” Neville said Monday. “And we do have a vaccine clinic running almost every day with the exception of Wednesday, this week, including Saturday to get folks vaccinated.”

Despite delays in some vaccine shipments, Neville said they had vaccinated approximately half of all their hospital staff, and had sufficient supplies on hand to continue working through the remaining employees while still providing second doses for those who’ve already received a first.

To date, Neville said only around five percent of hospital employees had stated they would be declining the vaccine. Since it was approved under an emergency use authorization by the Food and Drug Administration, the vaccine can not be made mandatory.

Neville also confirmed that there had been three adverse reactions out of approximately 10,000 employees vaccinated throughout the PeaceHealth Medical Network of hospitals, including one that required intensive care. He said he did not know which hospital that more serious case worked for.

 Employees are also asked to fill out a medical questionnaire before receiving the vaccine, including any other allergic reactions they might have. Neville said that was supplied by the FDA, and only a handful of employees had been denied a vaccine dose due to their answers. Most of those were temporary, to allow the staff member to consult with their own doctor.

Anyone receiving either dose of vaccine is monitored for at least 20 minutes to watch for any potential adverse reaction.