Engineers will be called into the Princess Alexandra Hospital's Ward 5D to assess air circulation as a potential cause for two separate COVID-19 virus clusters.

The investigation comes as Health Minister Yvette D'Ath revealed a "single area" in the Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital could be used to care for the majority of Queensland's COVID patients in the wake of the outbreaks.

Suspicions into a possible common cause of both clusters are focused on an isolation room inside the PA Hospital's Ward 5D, where two so-called super-spreader patients were cared for at different times last month.

 

The Princess Alexandra Hospital, Brisbane, where a probe is underway into two separate COVID-19 clusters. Photo: Dan Peled.
The Princess Alexandra Hospital, Brisbane, where a probe is underway into two separate COVID-19 clusters. Photo: Dan Peled.

The room is the common link in both outbreaks, totalling 22 people, including four health workers - a junior doctor and three nurses.

Queensland Health last night confirmed an engineering analysis would be conducted into Ward 5D to examine "possible factors which may have contributed to virus transmission".

Genomic sequencing has traced the separate clusters back to the patients - a man who arrived into Queensland from Europe and another man who was diagnosed with COVID-19 after flying in from India.

One cluster of 10 people involves a doctor and nurse, who each cared for the man who had travelled from Europe.

A second, more recent outbreak, of 12 people, centres on two Ward 5D nurses.

One of the nurses spread the virus to friends and a stripper at a Byron Bay hens' party while not realising she was infectious.

Genomic sequencing has linked the cases back to the patient who travelled into Queensland from India with the highly contagious UK variant of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. But neither nurse had direct contact with him.

Queensland Health Minister, Yvette D’Ath. Photo: Richard Walker.
Queensland Health Minister, Yvette D’Ath. Photo: Richard Walker.

Ms D'Ath said no breaches involving the health workers and their use of personal protective equipment had been found.

"We know it's not related to one individual in relation to how they donned their PPE, or worn their PPE, or any breaches by any one individual because it's happened on two occasions with four health workers over different days," she said.

"There is a view that this is about the environment."

Ward 5D has been closed for deep cleaning, a process which is expected to take several days. COVID-19 patients have been moved to other hospitals.

The clusters are stretching resources at the Princess Alexandra Hospital, with any health worker who entered Ward 5D between 8pm on March 23 and midday on March 26 directed to go into 14 days' quarantine, regardless of whether they had patient contact.

Deputy Chief Health Officer Sonya Bennett said more than 3000 people had been asked to go into quarantine as a result of the two clusters.

That includes a large number of Princess Alexandra hospital staff.

Queensland Health Minister Yvette D’Ath and her Deputy Chief Health Officer, Dr Sonya Bennett. Photo: Richard Walker.
Queensland Health Minister Yvette D’Ath and her Deputy Chief Health Officer, Dr Sonya Bennett. Photo: Richard Walker.

For example, the Courier-Mail understands about a dozen doctors working in orthopaedics at the hospital have had to go into quarantine.

Ms D'Ath has committed to making public the findings of any investigation into the clusters.

"We don't have a fixed date, we're going through the process," she said.

With Queensland recording more positive COVID patients in recent months, particularly flying in from virus-ravaged Papua New Guinea, Ms D'Ath said the Palaszczuk Government was looking at plans to care for most of them in one hospital.

The government is still considering which hospital that will be, but RBWH appears to be the frontrunner.

"We're looking at … having a single area in one hospital where we can bring COVID patients instead of spreading them over different hospitals in Brisbane," Ms D'Ath said.

"We are looking at what is the best model going forward to reduce the risk of any spread of transmission of COVID with our positive patients in our hospital system.

"We're not suggesting it'll be one single hospital across the whole state, because we'd still be using others outside the Brisbane area as well."

The announcement came as Queensland recorded no new coronavirus cases in the community, with one case detected in hotel quarantine - bringing the total number of active cases across the state to 72.

The Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital, which is being looked into as a possible site to take most Queensland COVID-19 virus cases. Photo: Jono Searle.
The Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital, which is being looked into as a possible site to take most Queensland COVID-19 virus cases. Photo: Jono Searle.

Dr Bennett said while there was "no one perfect solution", it was felt that caring for most cases in one hospital, and having a dedicated workforce in managing them, may be the best way to minimise the risk of transmission going forward.

Ms D'Ath said the government was still looking at what the proposal would require and how many beds would need to be set aside.

"It is simply under exploration at the moment and there has been no decisions made," she said.

"(The RBWH) is a central hospital that has managed the COVID virus very well in their environment, but we need to look at all options."

In the wake of the PA Hospital clusters, Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young has introduced a policy that all health workers dealing with COVID-positive cases must be tested for the virus during every shift.

"Across the world, more than 17,000 healthcare workers have died from COVID," Dr Young said. "I thank every single one of our healthcare workers in Queensland who have been out on the front line looking after positive COVID cases."

Originally published as Cluster busters may have solved PA Hospital outbreak mystery



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