COVID FAIL: 51 casual contacts at Geraldton Health Campus told to isolate four days after exposure

Phoebe Pin & Elise Van AkenGeraldton Guardian
Geraldton Health Campus.
Camera IconGeraldton Health Campus. Credit: Lisa Favazzo/The Geraldton Guardian

The seafarer who was transferred to Geraldton hospital after displaying COVID-19 symptoms has tested positive to the Delta variant of the virus, WA Health has confirmed.

The confirmation comes after more than 50 people deemed casual contacts of a COVID-positive patient were allowed out in the Geraldton community for three days before the State Government yesterday backflipped, announcing all would be required to quarantine.

The bulk carrier MV Emerald Indah was forced to dock in Geraldton on Sunday night when a crew member, a man in his 50s, became unwell and was taken to Geraldton Hospital.

But only on Wednesday did the WA Country Health Service reveal the seafarer had spent three hours in the hospital’s emergency ward after testing positive for COVID-19, with 25 hospital staff members, 18 patients and eight visitors who were in the same ward within the three-hour period the patient was receiving care identified as casual contacts.

A crew member from the ship MV Emerald Indah tested positive for COVID. The man landed in Jandakot and was transferred to a Perth hospital after being treated at Geraldton Health Campus.
Camera IconA crew member from the ship MV Emerald Indah tested positive for COVID. The man landed in Jandakot and was transferred to a Perth hospital after being treated at Geraldton Health Campus. Credit: 7NEWS

He was eventually taken to a negative pressure room, with WACHS principal health officer Helen Van Gessel on Wednesday conceding he had been in the ED for “too long.”

A COVID protocol breach later occurred when a staff member entered an elevator which had been used to transfer the man out of the hospital just minutes earlier.

The worker — who was not wearing personal protective equipment — was deemed a close contact as the lift had not been cleaned after the transfer.

While the close contact was required to quarantine immediately, Dr Van Gessel said casual contacts could go about their normal business.

But Premier Mark McGowan yesterday said those “extremely low-risk” people would be required to isolate. He said placing 25 staff in isolation would not affect the running of the hospital.

“Out of an abundance of caution, all staff have been tested and will quarantine until they return a negative result,” he said.

“The 18 patients and eight visitors who were in the emergency department are being contacted and they are being required to isolate until they test negative ... These people are considered extremely low risk.”

As of yesterday afternoon, authorities were still reaching all casual contacts.

WA Premier Mark McGowan at a COVID presser yesterday.
Camera IconWA Premier Mark McGowan at a COVID presser yesterday. Credit: Ian Munro/The West Australian

What we know

- A seafarer tested positive to the Delta COVID-19 variant after he was transported by ambulance to Geraldton Health Campus on Sunday night.

- The man spent three hours in the emergency department, with 51 hospital workers, patients and visitors identified as casual contacts. They were asked to quarantine yesterday, three days after the incident.

- One staff member entered an elevator the COVID-positive patient had been in before it could be cleaned. They were deemed a close contact and immediately required to quarantine.

- All close and casual contacts will undergo saliva swabbing and COVID testing on days three, seven and 11 from the time of potential exposure.

What we don’t know

- Why did it take three days to advise the public of the breach?

- Why was the emergency department potential spread also not revealed until days later and the casual contacts not immediately isolated?

- Why was he not immediately taken to the hospital's negative pressure room?

- What was the distance between the COVID-positive seafarer and hospital staff, patients and visitors in the ED?

- Why was the elevator not cordoned off to prevent anyone entering before it could be cleaned?

- How many casual contacts have been tested so far?

COMMUNITY REACTION

Community response to the incident was mixed, with Batavia Health practice manager Holly Fawcettsaying the Mid West Respiratory Clinic had seen a rise in inquiries for the Pfizer vaccine.

But there had not been an increase in the amount of appointments booked as most people eligible to receive a vaccine could only access AstraZeneca.

I think what has happened recently has really changed a lot of people’s attitudes towards getting vaccinated.

- Batavia Health practice manager Holly Fawcett

“I think what has happened recently has really changed a lot of people’s attitudes towards getting vaccinated,” she said.

“All sorts of people are inquiring, but particularly the 50 to 59-year-olds want Pfizer. They’re not interested in AstraZeneca.

“We are waiting on confirmation of when we will receive more supply of Pfizer which we can administer to the eligible groups.”

Andrew Miller arrives at Perth Children's Hospital for a meeting with staff this afternoon.
Camera IconAndrew Miller arrives at Perth Children's Hospital for a meeting with staff this afternoon. Credit: Ian Munro The West Australian 20/05/21

Mr McGowan yesterday said the risk of further transmission was “miniscule” but Australian Medical Association WA spokesperson Dr Andrew Miller said this did not excuse “bad management”.

“They need to stop saying the risk is very low because that may be the case, but that is no excuse to not having the resources, the training, the PPE and the protocols in place,” he said.

“The frontline staff need to be given the resources they have been yelling for since early last year which is high-level PPE, and negative pressure ventilation in which to look after patients who we know have COVID.”

Dr Miller said an outbreak at the hospital could be catastrophic for the Geraldton healthcare system.

“I think the community would be right to be dismayed that we can’t even handle one case within our country health system without leading to potentially 50 healthcare workers and other people being exposed,” he said.

“With one breach like this, that could result in the closure of an entire health service, and there is no spare hospitals in Geraldton.”

The front-line staff need to be given the resources they have been yelling for since early last year which is high-level PPE, and negative pressure ventilation in which to look after patients who we know have COVID.

- Australian Medical Association WA spokesperson Dr Andrew Miller .

Geraldton Mayor Shane Van Styn said neither the local MP nor the State Government had been in touch with the council.

“We are gravely disappointed that when COVID is brought to Geraldton and a potential exposure occurs the local government is not informed in a timely manner,” he said.

The Emerald Indah sitting off the coast of Perth.
Camera IconThe Emerald Indah sitting off the coast of Perth. Credit: Ian Munro/The West Australian

“As operators of many public areas and facilities we should be notified. To not have our environmental health officers informed is extremely concerning.

“We will allow the Health Department to contain the outbreak. The time for finger-pointing will happen in due course.”

Nationals MLA for Moore Shane Love labelled the incident “deplorable”.

“To be 18 months into this and having repeated assurances that country hospitals and country facilities were able to cope, then to see this happen ... it’s unacceptable,” he said.

Midwest GP Network deputy chair Dr Ian Taylor, who works at Geraldton Hospital on occasion as an anaesthetist, said the breach served as a warning of how important it was to get vaccinated.

The infected seafarer is in intensive care in Royal Perth Hospital and it remains unclear what strain of the virus he has. The MV Emerald Indah was cleared to leave WA waters and return to Indonesia on Wednesday night.

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