Damp personal protective equipment is likely to have left some healthcare workers exposed to coronavirus when caring for patients from the Rosewood Rest Home and Hospital cluster, experts believe.
Canterbury DHB incident controller Dr Sue Nightingale told the Herald technical experts had been looking into how three Canterbury DHB staff members became unwell after caring for the elderly patients.
"Their collective view is that a PPE 'breach' is the most likely scenario," Nightingale said.
"It is believed damp masks may be the source of the breach.
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"This factor is likely to have increased risk of exposure to Covid-19."
Due to the demands on staff, it was not always easy to interrupt care of "very unwell dependent patients" to change PPE as frequently as recommended, she said.
This was particularly noted on the day the elderly patients were moved to Burwood Hospital, April 6, and the day after.
"Some staff reported their PPE had become moist with the physical exertion that occurred over some hours that day. This factor is likely to have led to exposure to Covid-19."
All workers caring for the resthome residents normally change their PPE every two hours when they take their breaks or sooner if needed.
"PPE Champions" and buddy systems has been introduced as a strategies to make sure staff's PPE is routinely checked, she said.
The Public Service Association has previously said nationally at least 128 health workers had been infected with Covid-19 so far, and that thousands of members were working without reliable access to PPE.
"We have repeatedly been promised PPE. Our members have repeatedly been told the DHBs and the Ministry of Health will keep them safe. These promises have repeatedly been broken," said assistant national secretary of the PSA, Melissa Woolley.
"The supply is there. The Prime Minister, the Director-General, the Minister of Health and others have all confirmed this. But because our country lacks an efficient and united health system, and instead has a set of fragmented feuding fiefdoms, the supply is not getting through."
The Auditor-General announced yesterday the issues surrounding frontline workers' access to PPE including masks will be independently reviewed, saying that the Health Ministry had agreed to a review of its management of PPE for the Covid-19 response.
Healthcare workers in hospitals and in the community, including at aged care facilities, have been outspoken about problems accessing PPE, even though the Government has been adamant there is more than enough supply of masks, goggles, gowns and face shields.