Three people linked to infected Waitakere Hospital nurses tested positive for Covid-19, bringing to 10 the number affected through the West Auckland facility.

Waitakere Hospital has been the subject of a focus on its rostering of nurses into both Covid-19 wards and non-virus wards, and while it has won backing from a regional clinical committee it has now stopped the practice.

An internal memo dated May 4 obtained by Newsroom shows the Waitemata DHB still does not know how the three nurses were infected through their personal protective equipment, but narrows the risk down to one day and one elderly patient thought to have come in from the St Margaret’s rest home cluster at Te Atatu.

It says the hospital outbreak has involved 10 positive cases, four being patients, the three nurses and three ‘non healthcare workers… linked to the nurses’. That could mean family or friends of the three nurses.

The memo, written by General Physician Marlise Heynike, says the hospital was into its fifth day without new positive tests – meaning the last was likely on Thursday, April 30, three days after the first nurse tested positive.

Given New Zealand reported no new cases of Covid-19 today, the three non-staff positive test results must have been reported publicly in past days.

Results had been returned for 75 percent of the staff tested since then and all were negative, the memo says. “It is now five days from last nurse reported. Takes a median of five days to become symptomatic. This is good news – every day without someone being diagnosed is a day safer.”

Waitakere Hospital has said all nurses treating the St Margaret’s Covid-19 patients had access to correct personal protective equipment (PPE). The memo says of PPE :”Guidelines still unchanged. Very protective but never 100 percent. N95 [the advanced masks] stands for 95 percent protection. Filters out 1-5 microns. Where we are going wrong is not in donning but in doffing. This is where we make mistakes and contaminate ourselves.”

The Nurses Organisation is questioning the hospital’s mixing up of staff across the Covid-19 and non-Covid-19 parts of the hospital, and says a staff representative warned the hospital management of the risk, recommending staff not work between wings to minimise any spread.

Dozens of staff who’d come into contact with the three infected nurses had been stood down in the meantime.

Newsroom also understands staff are concerned hospital management are too remote from day-to-day operations to respond adequately to their queries and concerns.

In a media release today, the hospital says it will no longer ask nurses to move from Covid-19 wards to other areas of the hospital in subsequent days.

“In managing our current Covid patients, the DHB is striving to maintain staffing ‘bubbles’ in response to concerns raised by our staff. This involves taking additional precautions that go even further than the CTAG guidance to protect health and safety and give our staff peace-of-mind. 

“We are in the process of re-arranging nurse staffing rosters to ensure those who work with our current Covid patients do not work on other wards on subsequent days during the current clinical response.”

The Waitakere infection began when 15 elderly residents from CHT St Margaret’s Hospital and Rest Home in Te Atatu were admitted to either Waitakere or North Shore Hospitals as a Covid-19 outbreak and precautions left the facility without enough staff.  Three residents have since died and it is understood seven are still being treated.

The three deaths were of a woman in her 90s and two women in their 70s. A total of 38 cases had arisen in the St Margaret’s cluster by Monday, according to the Ministry of Health, with 18 having recovered and transmission of the virus listed as ongoing. Both North Shore and Waitakere hospitals are administered by the Waitemata District Health Board.

* Made with the support of NZ on Air *

Melanie Reid is Newsroom's lead investigations editor.

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