While there's been a focus on the spread of the coronavirus in public housing towers and hotel quarantine in Victoria, concerns have also been raised about another area where cases look to be rising.

University of NSW Professor Mary-Louise McLaws, is a member of a World Health Organisation (WHO) advisory panel on Covid-19, and told news.com.au that increasing cases among healthcare providers in Victoria should be watched.

In the past few weeks there have been handfuls of cases here and there, including 11 people linked to the Northern Hospital in Epping. Healthcare workers have tested positive at the Royal Melbourne Hospital, Sunshine Hospital emergency department, the Alfred Hospital and the Joan Kirner Women's and Children's Hospital.

On Wednesday, four cases were identified at Brunswick Private Hospital and a doctor at St Vincent's Hospital also tested positive.

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Workersat the Flemington Tower Public Housing Complex on July 09, 2020 in Melbourne. Photo / Darrian Traynor, Getty Images
Workersat the Flemington Tower Public Housing Complex on July 09, 2020 in Melbourne. Photo / Darrian Traynor, Getty Images

Yesterday among the 165 new cases, there were two cases identified among Sunshine Hospital emergency department workers, another two at Royal Melbourne Hospital and a further case at Northern Hospital.

More than a dozen cases have also been linked to GP clinics as well as cases in rehabilitation centres and dental centres.

"Either there has been a series of unusual events or there's a pattern here," McLaws said.

She said healthcare workers could be getting infected by Covid patients at work, or could also be getting the virus from other patients (who may be living in hotspot areas) or were getting it from community transmission themselves.

"If you look and there are one or two cases, it should ring alarm bells, especially among health providers.

"Especially if it is across facilities, something is going wrong. Either staff are coming into contact with Covid patients, they are exposed to hotspots or there is an operator error when it comes to PPE [personal protective equipment]."

She said healthcare providers were a potential risk category as numbers appeared to be rising.

"You see the numbers creeping up … and the pattern is telling me that it's not getting better."

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Coronavirus infections among healthcare staff pose a risk to their families but also to the patients they are looking after.

"They are all potentially a risk to the wider community," she said.

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McLaws said authorities may need to review their rules around the use of masks and Covid-19 testing of healthcare staff.

Minister for Health, Jenny Mikakos and Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews give an update on the response to Covid-19 at the State Emergency Centre. Photo / Getty Images
Minister for Health, Jenny Mikakos and Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews give an update on the response to Covid-19 at the State Emergency Centre. Photo / Getty Images

On Thursday afternoon Australia's Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Nick Coatsworth said Victorians in Melbourne and the Mitchell shire, where there were high levels of community transmission would now be encouraged to wear masks.

"Surgical masks or cloth masks is recommended if you find yourself in a situation where
you cannot socially distance.

"This means if you have to leave your home … and you are likely to find yourself in a situation where you cannot maintain 1.5m distance, it is advisable to be covering your face with a mask."

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McLaws said authorities also needed to consider whether staff in all wards including maternity and emergency, should wear masks, not just those in Covid wards.

"Authorities should be watching, and will be watching I imagine, the catchment area of where their patients are coming from.

"If patients are coming from hotspot areas of Melbourne, it could be a prudent, preventive approach for healthcare workers to wear masks."

McLaws said masks were not normally worn by all healthcare workers all the time partly because of the limited supply but also because they were uncomfortable.

"You also don't want workers wearing masks for 10 to 12-hour shifts, it's a very difficult ask to wear a mask for that duration unless the risk is high."

A man makes a gesture with his arms crossed at the Flemington Public housing flats, one of nine towers completely locked down. Photo / Getty Images
A man makes a gesture with his arms crossed at the Flemington Public housing flats, one of nine towers completely locked down. Photo / Getty Images

However, she said the WHO acknowledged that when there was a high prevalence of Covid in a certain catchment, it was a good preventive strategy to ask healthcare staff to put on a mask across most clinical settings.

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"It's not very nice to wear a mask all day long and it will reduce supplies but safety of workers is important. Authorities will have to make that decision."

She said authorities also needed to look at how often they were screening healthcare staff for Covid-19 and whether they should be tested more regularly even if workers don't have symptoms.

News.com.au has contacted the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services for comment.