UPDATE 1:33 pm: Canberra Health Services CEO Dave Peffer has announced that it has raised its COVID escalation framework from green to amber, which imposes mandatory requirements in CHS facilities, including mask wearing.
“It is now a requirement if you enter one of our facilities to wear a surgical mask, or if you’re entering what we deem to be higher-risk areas, for example the ICU or emergency department, to be wearing N95 masks and in some cases you’ll also be required to wear some glasses or a protective shield across your face,” Mr Peffer said.
“We’re also imposing visitor constraints in terms of having two people at the bedside at any point in time.”
“This is obviously a balancing act and we know how important it is to our patients to be able to have visitors attending our facilities spending time with them,” he added.
Mr Peffer confirmed that 22 patients and “a number of team members” had tested positive for COVID-19. “That area is locked down and everyone’s taking necessary precautions and we’re moving as quickly as we can”.
He also said that there were 51 COVID inpatients currently.
Mr Peffer said that this was not the first COVID outbreak at the hospital and that there had been “some minor outbreaks over recent months”, which were “well contained”.
“At this point in time, the current outbreak has been contained and we’re confident in the measures that we’ve taken to protect people,” he said.
11:50 am: ACT Health has confirmed that there has been an outbreak of COVID-19 in a general medicine ward at Canberra Hospital.
As of Thursday (1 June), 22 patients and five members of staff in Ward 7B, located in Building 1, had tested positive for the virus.
“Team members on the ward are wearing N95 masks in clinical spaces to minimise transmission. Air purifiers are also deployed, all patients have been placed on a PCR testing schedule and all team members who work in the area have been offered a PCR test,” a CHS spokesperson told Region.
The hospital is implementing additional safety measures to reduce the spread of respiratory illnesses to patients, staff and the wider community.
This comes as coronavirus case numbers have risen across the ACT in recent weeks: 996 people tested positive over the seven days ending 25 May, compared with 629 in the week ending 27 April. Cases peaked at 1005 in the week ending 18 May – the highest number of positive tests reported in the Territory this year since January.
As of 26 May, there were 32 patients with COVID-19 in Canberra hospitals, two in ICU and one on a ventilator.
“We’ve certainly seen an increase in COVID and flu cases over the last few weeks,” Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith said on Tuesday. However, she noted, “We haven’t seen the spike in influenza reporting that we did last year, so that’s a positive”.
When asked whether health services in Canberra have been feeling the pressure, she said: “So far, we’re seeing a fairly steady response, and we always expect to see an uptick in the number of people presenting with respiratory illness at the beginning of winter, whether that’s COVID, influenza or RSV.”
Canberra Health Services staff and visitors have not been required to wear masks since February, unless in a high-risk area. Patients with acute respiratory infections are still required to wear a surgical mask in health facilities and in transit.
However, the CHS spokesperson said that it is “implementing additional safety measures to help keep our staff, patients and their visitors safe”.
“As we head into the cooler months of the year, we are seeing an increase of respiratory viruses in the community, including RSV, influenza and COVID-19. This means we are seeing more sick people attending Canberra Health Services’ facilities and more staff away from work because they are unwell,” the spokesperson said.
Visitors to Canberra Health Services facilities must wear masks, and staff working in higher-risk areas must wear P2/N95 masks and eye protection. CHS has also increased COVID-19 testing for patients in hospitals.
“To help reduce the risk, we are also asking the public to reconsider whether you need to visit a hospital. This includes encouraging only having two visitors at a bedside at a time. We will continue to closely monitor the situation to see if further changes are necessary to keep patients, staff and visitors safe,” the spokesperson said.
Although influenza numbers have been lower than last year, Ms Stephen-Smith encouraged Canberrans to do everything they can to mitigate the spread of all respiratory illnesses and stay up to date with their vaccines.
“We haven’t had the really strong uptick early in the flu season that we saw last year. But it is an important reminder for people that we both need to maintain our COVID-smart and flu-smart behaviours, staying home if you’re unwell, making sure you’re not spreading your germs to others, and importantly, getting your COVID vaccination if you’re due for a booster and getting your flu shot,” she said.
“And I particularly take the opportunity to encourage parents to get their children vaccinated against flu, particularly young children.”