St. Charles Identifies Source Of COVID-19 Outbreak At Redmond Hospital 

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St. Charles Health System has traced the source of a COVID-19 outbreak at its Redmond hospital to a patient who initially tested negative, then tested positive.

Hospital officials said Friday the patient had underlying health conditions that sometimes made it difficult to wear a mask. The patient was admitted to St. Charles Redmond on Dec. 31. 

The patient initially had two negative COVID-19 tests. During that time, caregivers wore personal protective equipment to guard against droplets, St. Charles Health System said in a press release. The patient tested positive in a third test on Jan. 6. 

Thirty-three caregivers and another patient tested positive in the outbreak. 

Deschutes County Health Services and the Oregon Health Authority helped to investigate the outbreak. The hospital’s infection prevention team determined that the personal protective equipment that carers used became overwhelmed by prolonged exposure to the patient, the health system said.

 “The important learning from this outbreak is that negative COVID-19 test results are not foolproof,” said Dr. Jeff Absalon, St. Charles’ chief physician executive, in a statement. “In spite of negative test results, if a patient is highly symptomatic, we will need to treat them as if they are COVID-19 positive and aerosolizing, in which case the higher level of PPE is required.” 

COVID-19 tests are most accurate about five to seven days after the patient is exposed to the virus, but the virus takes up to 14 days to incubate in a person’s system.

The hospital said none of its caregivers were fully vaccinated because the health system’s vaccination campaign had started on Dec. 21.

The hospital’s infection prevention team completed outreach on Friday to patients who may have been exposed while at the Redmond hospital. The Bend-based health system has informed all people who are currently inpatients at the hospital that they were not exposed. 

“We have a strong contact tracing system in place for caregivers that is working to mitigate the spread of COVID-19,” Absalon said. “In the meantime, it’s important to stress that we feel confident our Redmond hospital is a safe place to receive care.” 

The 450-employee Redmond campus has put new safety measures in place since the outbreak. Those measures include: COVID-19 testing for all caregivers at the Redmond hospital; telling caregivers to stay home and get tested if they have any symptoms and increasing air exchange and air filtration standards.

The hospital also is instructing frontline health care workers who directly serve patients to use N95 respirators and eye protection throughout their shifts.. The hospital has beefed up its signage to remind employees about capacity limits in break rooms and conference rooms and to maintain social distancing.

The hospital has limited visitors to caregivers and attendants who help patients who have a language barrier or disability so they can receive treatment; close family members of patients in end-of-life care; and the parents or legal guardians of hospitalized children.

Hospitals throughout Oregon and southwest Washington have faced outbreaks. Earlier this month, Providence Portland Medical Center had an outbreak that sickened 49 patients and staff. Another outbreak that started in December at PeaceHealth Southwest Washington Medical Center in Vancouver, Washington, sickened about 30 patients and employees.

The Redmond outbreak is the first to affect the St. Charles Health System, which operates four hospitals in Bend, Redmond, Prineville and Madras. 

The nonprofit St. Charles Health System is the biggest health care system in central Oregon, with more than 4,500 employees and more than 350 medical staff at its hospitals and clinics. 

You can reach Ben Botkin at [email protected] or on Twitter @BenBotkin1.


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