Groote Schuur temporarily shuts two labs after 15 workers contract Covid-19

Two labs at Groote Schuur Hospital in Cape Town have closed due to infections.
Two labs at Groote Schuur Hospital in Cape Town have closed due to infections.
Image: 123RF/Jarun Ontakrai

One of the biggest laboratories in the country has seen a total of 15 lab technicians test positive for Covid-19.

National Health Laboratory Services (NHLS)  spokesperson Mzimasi Gcukumana confirmed that two labs at Groote Schuur hospital have been temporarily closed after 15  technicians tested positive for Covid-19.

“The 15 staff members are all from the clinical pathology and haematology laboratories and were not involved in Covid-19 testing,” Gcukumana said.

The first employee at the lab was diagnosed early in April and contact tracing was done.

“Staff in direct contact were quarantined and required to monitor symptoms. They were tested after seven days and confirmed negative and returned to work. The first staff member was discharged from hospital on April 25 2020,” he said.

He said last week Friday, a second staff member tested positive, and contact tracing and quarantine were implemented.

“A further 200 staff members at Groote Schuur were tested resulting in the confirmation of the other cases. Our initial internal investigations show that the infection did not take place from working with Covid-19 samples and is likely to be a result of local transmission,” Gcukumana said.

He said the affected employees were in isolation, and those who have elected to isolate at home and have the facilities to do so are at home.

“Arrangements have been made with the Western Cape department of housing to provide isolation facilities for those not able to do so in their homes. The Western Cape response team is doing the contact research and ensuring that the families of the affected employees are tested and isolated where appropriate,” he said.

He said the NHLS laboratory at Groote Schuur was divided into four sections housing nine discipline laboratories.

“Only the sections housing the clinical pathology and haematology laboratories have been partially closed. All haematology and clinical pathology tests are being referred to other laboratories in the Western Cape. The laboratory closure does not affect the virology laboratory that is doing Covid-19 testing or the other discipline laboratories,” he explained.

He said the NHLS has done an initial investigation into the source of the infection and contracted an independent epidemiologist to investigate and confirm the nature of the transmission.

More than 330 health practitioners including doctors, nurses and lab technicians, have been infected by Covid-19 in the country.

As many as 64 health-care workers have tested positive in the Western Cape alone — eight doctors, 16 nurses and 23 workers including porters, lab technicians and security guards.

KwaZulu-Natal remains the province with the highest number of infected health workers at 138. It is followed by Gauteng with 96 infections.

At least one doctor has died of Covid-19 in SA, but he did not contract the respiratory illness in the country.

There are concerns about the growing incidence of Covid-19 infection among front-line workers, especially in the Western Cape.

Having recently surpassed Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal for the highest number of pandemic cases and deaths, the province has seen worrying trends in the number of workers testing positive and taking the disease home.

Health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize said the government was doing its best to ensure that personal protective equipment (PPE) was provided for health workers.

He said 133 front-line health workers in state hospitals and 195 in private hospitals had so far contracted Covid-19.

“There have been a large number of health workers who have been infected. This covers the private and public sectors,” he said.

“Among these there have been doctors, nurses, technicians and other members of staff, so we have gone to check what the basis of their infection was.

“Earlier, it was obviously people who have been travelling abroad, but of late we are dealing with internal transmission, which makes it difficult [to find] where the source of infection is.”

Mkhize said the doctor who died from the virus was from the Free State and had been retired. He was doing some work within the sector.

“He had travelled abroad, contracted Covid-19 and came back. Then he passed in the early days of the outbreak in the Free State,” said Mkhize.

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