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MA Coronavirus: Hundreds Of Hospital Employees Test Positive

Patch logo Patch 4/2/2020 Christopher Huffaker
a person wearing a white shirt: Many hospitals have shifted to having all employees wear masks at all times, in an attempt to slow the spread of the virus. © Shutterstock Many hospitals have shifted to having all employees wear masks at all times, in an attempt to slow the spread of the virus.

Hundreds of employees at Massachusetts hospitals have tested positive for the new coronavirus, according to data collected by Patch. Some of the Boston area's biggest hospitals have over 100 confirmed cases, as of Thursday. The state is expected to see a surge in cases in mid-April.

The infections among health care workers raise concerns about workplace safety as well as further spread to patients. The number of patients among health care personnel also means missing staff at the time of maximum need.

On Wednesday, the medical news site Medscape published a list of health care workers around the world who have died of the new virus. It already has hundreds of names, including several in the United States.

Are you a health care provider who has tested positive for the new coronavirus? Contact chris.huffaker@patch.com if you'd like to tell your story.

The state nursing union has called on hospitals to do more to protect staff during the outbreak, including universal personal protective equipment usage.

"We are entering the most crucial period in this pandemic and nurses are very concerned," Massachusetts Nurses Association President Donna Kelly-Williams, a registered nurse, said in a statement.

Brigham and Women's Hospital has 139 employee cases, while Brigham and Women's has 125, as of Wednesday afternoon. As of Thursday morning, the Beth Israel Lahey Health system has 232 cases, including 90 at Beth Israel Deaconess and 54 at Lahey.

Smaller regional hospitals are not escaping the virus: Netwon-Wellesley has 48 employees who have tested positive. The North Shore Medical Center has 21 and the Cambridge Health Alliance has 30. UMass Memorial Medical Center has 32 cases, according to its chief of colorectal surgery.

Even Cape Cod Health, in a area of the state with many fewer cases overall, has a few cases among employees, according to CEO Michael Lauf. He did not provide precise numbers.

Other hospitals, including MetroWest Medical Center and the Baystate Health System, declined to share employee case counts. The Boston Globe reported that Tufts and Boston Medical Center have 82 and 66 cases.

In a letter to the state, Kelly-Williams called for high PPE standards in hospitals, including N95 masks for all providers in patient rooms.

“The health of our communities and the lives of our families, friends and neighbors depends on how we protect frontline nurses and health care workers right now,” she said. “COVID-19 spreads quickly and quietly. As we speak, inside hospitals across Massachusetts, there are tens of thousands of dedicated, passionate people battling this pandemic."

Dr. Kristin Cox, medical director for quality and safety at Newton-Wellesley Hospital, described steps taken by the hospital and others in the Partners HealthCare system, like Massachusetts General and Brigham and Women's.

"We obviously care a lot about making sure that the staff, and obviously patients and visitors as well, remain safe," Cox said.

Every employee at the hospital is wearing a mask every day, and staff are required to say daily whether they have any coronavirus symptoms. Staff with symptoms are referred to the hospital's occupational health unit. The hospital has limited visitor access, and visitors who are permitted are screened for the virus before they come in.

According to Cox, early on most of the hospital's staff cases were traceable to recent travel or known exposure outside the hospital, but as community transmission has accelerated across the state, it's become less clear.

"It's hard to say overall," Cox said. "I'm not personally aware of any employee who has gotten ill from caring for a patient."

Partners has prepared "surge plan" for the coming weeks, Cox said, for increased staffing needs and potentially missing staff.

"We're looking at whoever is available to help," Cox said.

North Shore Medical Center provided a statement on their efforts to prevent the spread of the virus.

"Our number one priority is the health and safety of our patients, physicians and staff," the hospital said. "We're closely monitoring the COVID-19 pandemic and diligently following recommended protocols and procedures to protect everyone in our facilities and our community."

Specific efforts include mandatory masking in clinical facilities, daily self-monitoring of symptoms, and screening patients. Employees caring for confirmed or suspected coronavirus patients "are equipped with the personal protection equipment (PPE) they need to properly care for the patient and protect themselves."

The hospital has also developed surge plans for an influx in patients, according to the statement.

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Christopher Huffaker can be reached at 412-265-8353 or chris.huffaker@patch.com.

Patch takes community journalism seriously and we want to be as much service to our readers as possible at this very uncertain time. If you are a public health worker, medical provider, elected official, patient, or other coronavirus expert — or you simply have a news tip you'd like to share — please fill out this form. We'll keep names and personal information private.

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