“I had to touch the bin lid with my hands to get PPE off,” the worker said. “It’s disgusting and dangerous.”
Contact tracers are still working to determine how many other staff have been infected. The Alfred would not confirm the roles of the eight staff members who had tested positive.
The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald have been told by multiple hospital sources they include a ward clerk, a pharmacy student, a pharmacy assistant, a nurse and a respiratory intern who may have had contact with lung transplant and intensive care patients.
The state government announced on Saturday that a man in his 90s died from COVID-19 overnight as the state recorded another 216 new cases and health authorities grapple to contain more than 100 outbreaks.
Victoria now has the most coronavirus infections recorded in Australia since the pandemic began, with 3560 cases compared with 3285 in NSW.
Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton said only 30 of Victoria’s new cases were linked with known outbreaks, with the other 186 infections still under investigation.
“Essentially, we’ve got over 100 cumulative outbreaks now, so it’s very difficult to speak to the 30 cases with each and every one of those outbreaks,” Professor Sutton said.
The Andrews government also announced an ambitious plan to set up testing sites within 10 kilometres of every home in locked-down metropolitan Melbourne and the Mitchell Shire.
An Alfred spokeswoman said the hospital believed that five of the staff infections were unconnected and had been contracted “in the community”, while their three colleagues had been isolating as close contacts when they were diagnosed.
Alfred Health chief executive Andrew Way said the hospital was taking “every measure” to keep staff members safe and that everyone had to follow the “stringent protocols” on infection control.
“We cannot afford to become complacent,” Professor Way said.
The hospital, which this week began requiring all visitors and staff in clinical areas to wear surgical masks, has increased the frequency of cleaning in its infectious diseases wards and installed some pedal bins but is investigating further changes as the small bins fill up quickly because of the volume of PPE being used.
A spokeswoman said management was “reinforcing” the requirement for staff movements to be logged across the hospital “to ensure compliance from all staff, students and visitors”, including the new concierge system for entry to COVID-19 wards.
In an unconnected outbreak in March, three cancer patients died after contracting COVID-19 at The Alfred, after a patient admitted with a different medical condition turned out to be carrying the virus. Another two patients and 10 staff in the haematology and oncology wards were also infected.
Staff working in the infectious diseases ward have raised concerns about loose-fitting surgical masks, which attach by elastic loops over the ears, and are concerned they are not allowed to wear the P2 or N95 respirator masks reserved for clinicians performing aerosol-generating procedures such as intubation.
Alfred staff treating patients confirmed to have COVID-19 are also provided with gowns, visors, face shields and gloves, which must be put on and taken off under supervision.
Surgical masks are provided to staff treating COVID-19 patients despite offering less protection against viral particles than respirator masks, in line with official Australian Health Protection Principal Committee advice based on the recommendations of its Infection Control Expert Group.
Australian Medical Association Victorian president Julian Rait said “the highest level of PPE” should be provided to all healthcare workers treating either confirmed or suspected COVID-19 patients, including P2 or N95 masks.
The hospital has offered staff forced into isolation by the outbreak the option of staying in a hotel if they have vulnerable family members at home.
“We are supporting our staff through these challenging times,” a spokeswoman said.
The Victorian health department recently received a new shipment of PPE and has 34 million surgical masks, 1.3 million N95 masks, two million face shields, 1.7 million gowns and more than 85 million pairs of gloves in its warehouse and is working with the Alfred on any improvements needed.
“Due to an increased risk of transmission of coronavirus in certain geographical areas of Melbourne, staff in public-facing areas across all metropolitan health services are strongly encouraged to use appropriate PPE to maximise protection,” a spokesman said.
“We supply protective equipment to all our hospitals and have plenty of PPE … to be distributed to frontline health care workers.”
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Dana is health and industrial relations reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.