The mysteries of coronavirus infections among healthcare workers in the 5D department at Princess Alexandra Hospital continue to frighten Queensland health officials.
Late Wednesday, all hospital staff who entered the infectious disease ward from Tuesday to Friday last week – whether or not they came into contact with patients – were placed in quarantine.
The service is critical to understanding how cases of the UK variant coronavirus entered and then spread in the Brisbane community, resulting in a three-day city lockdown and restrictions in two states.
The first case was a doctor, who assessed a patient for possible hospital admission on March 10.
The second and third were nurses from the 5D ward – both had contracted coronavirus from a patient returning from India, with whom they had no direct contact. Genomic testing has confirmed that the traveler is the source of both cases.
The patient was brought to the 5D ward at 8:30 p.m. on March 23. The first infected nurse did not start her shift until 10 p.m. She did not enter the man’s room or have contact with him.
This week, Queensland health official Jeanette Young speculated how the first nurse was infected.
“There is most likely environmental contamination or some aerosolization of the virus when the person has been admitted,” Young said.
Experts say there are other possibilities, which help explain measures taken this week to evacuate the 5D ward, limit admissions to the rest of the hospital and place large numbers of healthcare workers in quarantine.
The first is that an asymptomatic or undetected case served as a link between the traveler and the infected nurses.
Another is that the airborne infection could have been acquired outside of the ward, where people were likely less vigilant.
Thea van de Mortel, infection control expert and deputy director of the Griffith University School of Nursing, told Guardian Australia there was a growing understanding of how the coronavirus can be transmitted through aerial, potentially over long distances and over long periods.
“It is a pathogen that spreads through very small particles in the air [and] there is a limit to what non-specially designed installations can do, ”said van de Mortel.
“There is a suggestion that for the people who caught him… they don’t necessarily think he was caught in the Covid neighborhood, that he may have been caught outside.
“When you open the door, some of the contaminated air escapes.”
Van de Mortel said new variants of the virus – including the British variant contracted in Brisbane – caused a higher viral load in those infected.
«B117 [the UK variant] is much more transmissible than the regular virus. Really, the main thing is to get people vaccinated. “
Unions representing nurses and doctors, and the Australian Medical Association, have called for an investigation into the infections, including whether safety equipment has been properly tested.
While the community outbreak in Brisbane appears to be under control, concerns remain about the scale of cases in the hotel’s quarantine and hospital system. Nine new cases detected in returning travelers were announced on Wednesday.
In a new attempt to reduce the risk in hospitals, the federal government has agreed to halve the number of international arrivals in Queensland.
Young told reporters on Thursday that she was not concerned about the health system’s ability to cope with cases.
“What worries me is how much virus people have,” she says.
“People have a huge amount of viruses. We know the risk is extremely high. We are seeing more and more of these extremely high risk patients in these hospitals.
“It’s so easy for a tiny mistake to contaminate a healthcare worker. This is why it is so critical… to halve the number of travelers arriving in Queensland. “