Two Waikato Hospital nurses working with elderly patients have tested positive for Covid-19, prompting the immediate stand down of all staff who came into contact with the nurses.
It comes after the Ministry of Health reported for the first time yesterday the number of frontline healthcare staff infected with Covid-19 was 64, including 17 nurses.
Both Waikato Hospital nurses worked on the older persons rehabilitation [OPR] ward 5 and any staff who worked on the ward over the week to April 6 are now in self-isolation for 14 days.
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Waikato District Health Board chief executive Dr Kevin Snee said the hospital was taking all precautions.
"The staff acted in line with DHB policy to stand down if they are unwell," Snee said.
"However, there is a very small risk of transmission even in those without symptoms and we have therefore taken a very precautionary approach.
"Staff who were working on that ward during the previous week, March 31 to April 6, have been stood down as we obtain more information regarding the nursing movements to enable us to return those staff, where there is no risk, back to the workforce as quickly as possible."
The ward provides general medical services, mostly for older people aged over 65.
Snee confirmed there were no Covid-19 positive patients on the ward at present.
He said staff had all the recommended personal protective equipment [PPE] and were trained in its use, in addition to facemasks being available for casual contacts with patients and other staff.
The DHB had informed all staff and discussed the situation with all affected patients and where appropriate, their family members.
"The staff on the ward have displayed great resilience and professionalism in dealing with this issue and we thank them for their openness and understanding.
"We expect to have many of them resume work in the next few days."
The news was announced to all DHB staff yesterday in an email from incident controller Leena Singh.
"These individuals have acted entirely correctly by staying home as soon as they developed symptoms and we commend them for this," Singh said of the two nurses.
"However, to safeguard our staff and ensure patient safety we have chosen to stand down all staff who were working in this ward during any potential incubation period, which we believe was from the afternoon of March 31 to April 6."
It's understood this included a physiotherapist, other nurses, doctors and clerical staff.
Singh said patients on the ward had been told of the situation and would continue to be monitored.
"We are undertaking a thorough clean of the area and all patient contacts within OPR5 must now be performed with full PPE until further notice.
"As you can appreciate this is an evolving situation and we are working with public health and infection control to manage any risk to our staff or patients."
Contact tracing had begun and Singh said anyone who went to the ward before March 31 was not considered to be at risk. Those staff should report to work as normal.
Any staff member in the same bubble as someone stood down on "special leave" should also still come to work unless the self-isolating staff member began showing symptoms of coronavirus.
"Then they need to be tested in either the staff testing station, the Emergency Department at Waikato Hospital, or one of the CBACs [Community Based Assessment Centres].
"In that circumstance, you should stay home and advise your line manager of the changed situation."
The staff testing station was planned before the nurses were confirmed with the virus, Singh said, and would be open onsite at the hospital from Tuesday after Easter.
Staff not showing symptoms should not be tested, she said.
"The test results are much less reliable when testing is done in people who do not have symptoms- a negative result does not rule out Covid-19.
"As we establish the staff and patient movements from March 31, it is very likely that many staff will be declared safe to return to work much earlier than 14 days."
Singh said managers would keep staff updated as the situation developed.
"This will no doubt be a stressful situation for many who are directly or indirectly affected. Please continue to support each other and be kind to one another."