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Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital worker contracts coronavirus, prompts partial lockdown of surgical unit

About 20 patients are being isolated for 14 days in a hospital area, where there was an August outbreak of the infectious disease.|

Track coronavirus cases in Sonoma County, across California, the United States and around the world here.

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A group of patients are being quarantined for 14 days at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital, after coming in contact with a hospital employee recently infected with the coronavirus.

The patients are isolated in a portion of the medical surgical unit, the site of an August outbreak of the highly contagious infectious disease.

An official with the National Union of Healthcare Workers, one of the unions representing workers at Memorial, said Thursday 19 patients are involved in the quarantine at Sonoma County’s largest hospital.

“We’re doing this out of an abundance of caution. It was a low-risk (COVID-19) exposure, but we want to make sure we stop transmission of the virus,” said Tyler Hedden, chief executive officer of the 300-bed hospital that employs about 2,000 people.

The latest Memorial hospital worker diagnosed with COVID-19 is not connected with the virus outbreak last month, Hedden said, adding that the medical center is “on the heels of that last (virus) cluster event.” That outbreak infected 26 employees and fewer than five patients.

No patients exposed to the infected worker have tested positive for the coronavirus, he said.

One female patient in quarantine at Memorial told The Press Democrat she received a letter Thursday from hospital officials alerting her she may have been exposed to the virus from contact with the infected employee. The patient, who asked to remain anonymous, was admitted on Sept. 14 and was informed in the letter from Chad Krilich, chief medical officer, and Vicki White, chief nursing officer, that she would remain in the isolation area until Oct. 1.

The patient said she’s been tested twice for the coronavirus and both tests have been negative.

“I feel more isolated right now than I’ve ever been,” the patient said. “I feel scared. I just feel like I’ve lost control of my ability to be safe.”

A male patient under quarantine told The Press Democrat he had received a similar letter from hospital officials warning him he may have been exposed to the virus and he, too, would remain in isolation until Oct. 1. Aside from the letter, the patient said he was told the hospital learned Sept. 17 the worker tested positive for COVID-19, the same day he was admitted to Memorial.

The man, who requested anonymity, said he was moved to the quarantine section of the surgical unit on Monday night. He said all hospital workers who enter his room wear full protective gear.

“They’re understaffed for the day shift and night shift,” he said Thursday. “If we ask for something as simple as water, we have to wait 30 to 45 minutes.”

Christian Hill, a hospital spokesman, said patients involved are being isolated for 14 days. That’s the longest period after getting infected that people typically develop COVID-19 symptoms, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Peter Brackner, vice president of the Staff Nurses Association, which represents nurses at Memorial, said the hospital worker tested positive for COVID-19 in mid-September. Hospital officials declined to provide the date they learned the employee contracted the virus.

On Wednesday, members of the National Union of Healthcare workers and the Staff Nurses Association, held a rally in front of Memorial Hospital and called on Providence St. Joseph Health, which runs the medical center, to expand virus testing of employees and beef up safety protocols to prevent the coronavirus from spreading further in the hospital.

“If they were providing regular testing of all workers, they could eliminate the problem of COVID among caregivers,” said Sal Rosselli, president of the healthcare workers union.

Memorial hospital officials said they strictly adhere to CDC guidelines on use of personal protective equipment for their health care workers. Testing all hospital employees for the coronavirus is not feasible due to limited testing resources, the officials said.

Hedden, Memorial’s top executive, said the hospital’s main priority is the safety of its staff and patients. He said COVID-19 is prevalent in the community, and it is not uncommon for staff at hospitals across the country to become infected by the virus.

“This is the same thing that every hospital in the U.S. is really dealing with right now,” Hedden said, adding that the hospital is taking steps to ensure it doesn’t have another outbreak.

“It’s important to just reassure the public that we’re doing these things to provide some extra precaution and to ensure this virus doesn’t spread,” he said. “It’s vital to our hospital and to our community.”

You can reach Staff Writer Martin Espinoza at 707-521-5213 or martin.espinoza@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @pressreno.

Track coronavirus cases in Sonoma County, across California, the United States and around the world here.

For more stories about the coronavirus, go here.

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