Probe into outbreak of Covid-19 at St Augustine's

St Augustine's Hospital in Durban has several staff members who are Covid-19 positive. / Thembinkosi Dwayisa
St Augustine's Hospital in Durban has several staff members who are Covid-19 positive. / Thembinkosi Dwayisa

Acclaimed epidemiologist Prof Salim Abdool Karim will lead an investigation into the coronavirus outbreak at St Augustine's Hospital in Durban.

Netcare management yesterday moved swiftly to deny that medical staff and employees at the hospital - at which 66 people have tested positive for Covid-19 - were not given appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE).

In response to health minister Zweli Mkhize's announcement on Tuesday, Netcare CEO Dr Richard Friedland said in a statement the hospital was "deeply saddened that, despite our very best efforts and precautions, there have been a total of four Covid-19-associated deaths" there.

Friedland said contrary to claims, staff members and doctors at the 464-bed hospital had been provided with PPE.

"No Netcare facility has ever expected a staff member to work without appropriate PPE. Our PPE policy includes a directive on the wearing of masks during the Covid-19 pandemic which... provides greater protection than the current recommendations and guidelines of . the World Health Organisation and the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD).

"In addition, we have retrained over 16,750 healthcare workers, other staff members and doctors on the appropriate and correct use...

"Since the spread of infections began as a result of two patients who were admitted for other medical reasons and initially had no travel history or symptoms of Covid-19 but subsequently tested positive, we have been in close consultation with the KZN DOH [department of health] and the NICD and continue to strictly follow their guidance and instructions," said Friedland.

He said the clinical team was working closely with Karim, a special adviser to the minister of health, and a team of epidemiology and infectious diseases specialists from the University of KZN.

He said the hospital has 15 pre-existing community-
acquired Covid-19 patients in its dedicated isolation units and one person had recovered.

"Of the staff and doctors tested, we confirm that 47 people who are connected with our hospital have tested positive for Covid-19. Of the 47 positive cases, 33 are in self-isolation and a further 14 are being accommodated by Netcare to ensure they are able to safely self-quarantine. Of those who tested positive, one person has since tested negative following his period of self-quarantine and has returned to work."

Friedland said challenges associated with the virus were that people infected didn't always display symptoms and that it was highly infectious.

"The ideal would be if all healthcare facilities could test, and not just screen, every person coming into our hospitals, and to do that on a repeat basis as some may at first test negative. The reality in SA, however, makes this impossible, so the risk remains of Covid-19 entering our hospitals, and any other hospitals in this way despite our best efforts to prevent this from happening."

Testing of the 1,982 people working at the hospital was being done. "More than half of these individuals have already been swabbed. Thus far, a total of 504 people have tested negative and we are awaiting the results of a further 318 people.

"Our deep and heartfelt thanks go to all our healthcare workers, nurses and doctors and their families and loved ones for their incredible efforts under these very trying and challenging circumstances. We . remain deeply grateful to them all," he said.

KZN health MEC Nomagugu Simelane-Zulu said her department had to close the hospital as a precaution after discovering irregularities in how Covid-19 cases were being reported to the government.

"The biggest issue that got us worried was the fact that the cases we got from there were not cases that had initially been reported. These were cases that were admitted to the hospital without being tested properly for Covid-19 and they were put in a normal ward and tested for pneumonia instead of following proper protocol and testing for Covid-19.

"We decided to randomly test their healthcare workers... and out of the first 20 we tested, 11 came back positive. We have tested everyone and already we are on 48 that have been exposed."

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