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caption: EvergreenHealth community hospital admitted two patients with respiratory problems last week. Both tested positive for novel coronavirus. One of those patients, a man, died on Friday.
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EvergreenHealth community hospital admitted two patients with respiratory problems last week. Both tested positive for novel coronavirus. One of those patients, a man, died on Friday.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Kim Malcolm

Several Seattle-area hospital workers infected with COVID-19

Several hospital workers in the Seattle area have contracted the novel coronavirus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Among them: an emergency room doctor at EvergreenHealth in Kirkland. He is in critical but stable condition with COVID-19.

“Unfortunately, we've learned that health care workers in some acute-care hospitals were exposed and infected,” said epidemiologist Tom Clark, deputy director of the CDC’s division of viral diseases.

Clark is leading a 40-person team of disease detectives from the CDC who have been working out of Public Health – Seattle & King County for the past two weeks.

“If a very sick patient is brought into the door in an acute-care hospital, they don't necessarily take care of them with the appropriate precautions,” Clark said. “And unfortunately, that's what happened here and led to some health care worker infections.”

Clark deferred to Public Health – Seattle & King County to provide any more information on hospital worker COVID-19 infections here.

That agency declined to do so.

“Even if our staff did devote time to evaluating the data, by the time we had an answer for the exact total number of cases identified in health workers, it would immediately be outdated,” Public Health spokesperson Hilary Karasz emailed.

It’s unknown whether the EvergreenHealth doctor, a man in his 40s, caught the virus while working at the hospital or in his off hours.

Evergreen has handled most of the rash of coronavirus cases from the Life Care Center nursing home, two miles away.

“This emergency physician complied at all times with appropriate PPE [personal protective equipment] procedures,” according to a statement from William Jaquis, president of the American College of Emergency Physicians. “The hospital was acutely aware of the COVID-19 risk to health care workers and has worked closely with the CDC to ensure the appropriate policies and procedures are in place to mitigate risk,” it states.

The visiting CDC team has been helping King County and hospitals here improve infection-prevention practices. In an effort to track the disease’s spread, the CDC team has also been tracing the contacts that some COVID-19 patients may have had.

Such “contact tracing” becomes unwieldy once a disease has spread throughout a community, Clark said.

“They really are moving away from being able to follow up on every single case, but they are following up in order to identify any health care workers who are cases or who have been exposed to move to protect them,” Clark said.

The targeted approach aims at preventing health care workers and first responders from being incapacitated.

“We need to protect the health workers, and we need to flatten the curve of the outbreak so that it doesn't overwhelm the health system.

“EvergreenHealth is providing care for one of our physicians who has a confirmed case of COVID-19. He is in critical but stable condition. Out of respect for our patient’s privacy and that of his family, there is nothing more we can share at this time,” reads a brief statement sent by EvergreenHealth spokesperson Kay Taylor.

When asked if any other hospital staff had contracted the virus, Taylor texted back, “That is our statement at this time.”