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‘Very concerning’: Number of health workers with coronavirus doubles

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“I’m very concerned by these numbers because although healthcare workers comprise about three per cent of the population, this means they are accounting for about 12 per cent of the infections,” AMA Victorian president Associate Professor Julian Rait said on Friday.

“We need to look more carefully at what’s happening in our healthcare institutions because this sudden increase is quite concerning.”

Victorian health authorities are yet to explain whether the source of infections was linked to outbreaks in hospitals or if staff were contracting the disease from patients or in the wider community.

The department has so far refused to reveal the number of workers who have tested postive per hospital, citing privacy reasons.

Professor Rait suspected the surge could be linked to a recent increase in testing of Victorian healthcare workers, which could explain why more cases of the virus were detected in the workforce in the past week.

“It obviously requires some explanation and we will be seeking an explanation from the chief health officer and the public health physicians in the department,” he said.

Healthcare workers have been long been identified as an extremely high risk group for exposure to the virus.

In Melbourne’s The Alfred hospital, a cluster of at least 15 cases led to three deaths of cancer patients.

Another two cancer patients at The Alfred were also diagnosed with COVID-19 and remain in a stable condition, while there have been 10 confirmed cases of the virus among hospital staff.

The outbreak sidelined more than 100 healthcare workers at The Alfred who had to self-isolate for 14 days. Dozens have since been cleared of the virus and able to return to work this week, while an investigation into the outbreak is ongoing.

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Professor Rait said it must be determined whether there had been a shift from community acquired spread, which made up the bulk of the more than 80 confirmed healthcare worker cases last week, to staff contracting the virus through their front-line work.

“We know internationally that infections acquired in hospitals and clinics are a significant problem if proper procedures are not followed,” he said.

“Not only does protective equipment need to be sufficient, but the procedures to fit and remove the personal protective equipment need to be rigorous. Infection control experts are well aware of what is required, so appropriate equipment and drills are now pivotal to ensuring proper compliance and sufficient protection of healthcare workers.”

Four emergency department workers at Mercy Hospital also tested positive for COVID-19 late last month. It later emerged they all lived in the same house together.

Six staff at Eastern Health have also tested positive. The department has not revealed whether they all worked at the same hospital or where they acquired the virus.

A doctor who visited Carlton aged-care facility Rathdowne Place was also been diagnosed with COVID-19 this month, as was a staff member at the Assisi Centre in Rosanna.

Six workers at Frankston Radiology, a clinic in outer Melbourne, also tested positive to COVID-19 last week.

This week The Age revealed that thousands of Australian healthcare workers were pleading with authorities to urgently provide them with more protective equipment amid a dire shortage on the front line of the coronavirus pandemic.

The medical staff say the problem is forcing nurses and doctors to improvise with household items, buy unreliable equipment online, like $2 raincoats, and skip their drink and toilet breaks to conserve as many masks as possible.

Thousands of healthcare workers across the globe have been infected by COVID-19, with more than 100 doctors and nurses dying.

The state government has vowed to pay for hotel rooms for healthcare workers who test positive to coronavirus or need to self-isolate.

It has been been contacted for comment.

Another 13 people were diagnosed with the coronavirus in Victoria overnight, taking the statewide total to 1241.

Victoria had its thirteenth death on Thursday, an 80-year-old man who died in hospital.

The total number of cases includes 650 men and 591 women, ranging in age from babies to their early 90s.

Of the 1241 cases, 1001 are in Melbourne and 229 are in the regions while several other cases remain under investigation.

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