Townsville University Hospital is COVID-19 safe
Published: 28 August 2020
Townsville University Hospital has reassured the community that there is no reason to fear coming to hospital with positive COVID-19 cases being cared for in the hospital recently.
Townsville University Hospital infectious diseases physician Dr Chris Heather said there were strict infection-control protocols for when COVID-19 patients were admitted to hospital.
“Every step that is taken from the point of being notified of a positive case coming to hospital is a deliberate one,” Dr Heather said.
“The first consideration is the route patients take through the hospital to get to our dedicated ward for COVID-19 patients.
“The ward is strategically located to avoid unnecessary travel within the hospital which means minimising exposure to other people in the hospital.
“It is also critical that the procedure of transferring people mandates that clinicians wear personal protective equipment (PPE) and observe appropriate social distancing.
“All lifts and corridors used by the patient en route to the ward are thoroughly cleaned afterwards.”
Dr Heather said the infection-control ward was a dedicated isolation space created after the swine ‘flu pandemic in 2009.
“Patients with COVID-19 are placed into isolation rooms that are purpose-built to prevent airborne diseases from escaping the room,” he said.
“If a patient requires medical imaging there are dedicated mobile x-ray and ultrasound capabilities in the ward to further prevent unnecessary patient movement within the hospital and the radiographer will visit the patient’s bedside with the appropriate PPE.”
Dr Heather said patients in this ward isolated in their rooms and did not receive visitors.
“While it sounds extreme these measures are pivotal in ensuring the hospital continues to be a safe place to provide other healthcare to the community,” he said.
“Even meals are delivered by nurses in full PPE as opposed to an operational services officer who would usually deliver meals, and cleaners are required to wear full PPE when cleaning this ward.”
Dr Heather said most COVID-19 patients are cared for while they isolate in their homes or other suitable accommodation.
“Most people will not need to come to hospital, so we care for the majority of positive cases by admitting them to what we call a virtual ward,” he said.
“These patients receive both nursing and medical reviews each day via telemedicine with the infectious diseases and public health teams.
“More than half of the first cases were all cared for at home and this will be the case for most people until they are no longer infectious.
“This means only people who are significantly unwell or are unsuitable to be cared for at home will come to hospital.”
Chris said the community could be confident that the risk of acquiring COVID-19 in hospital was very low.
“Clinicians caring for COVID-19 patients are well trained; they know what to do,” he said.
“They wear full PPE including masks, gowns, gloves face shields and goggles at all times.”
Dr Heather said there were also misconceptions that staff who have clinical contact with COVID-19 patients in hospital could then transmit the infection to other people.
“It does not work that way,” he said.
“If they are exposed to COVID-19, the infection would incubate, that person would become sick and infectious and only then could they pass the illness to another person.
“It is for this very reason that our clinicians wear full PPE, to make it almost impossible that they would contract COVID-19.
“COVID-19 cannot be carried from place to place in that way.”
Dr Heather said it was important for the community to understand that contracting COVID-19 was more of a risk if community transmission existed.
“If there were people in the community getting around who potentially had COVID-19 that is when we would significantly increase infection-control measures in hospital,” he said.
“These would be measures like putting systems in place in our emergency department where we ask everyone to routinely wear masks to reduce the risk of somebody with COVID-19 exposing another person.
“When patients are brought into hospital with COVID-19 it is in a very controlled way that poses very little risk to the community.”