Netcare says its clinical team is working
closely with the Minister of Health special adviser Professor Salim Karim and a
team of epidemiology and infectious diseases specialists from the University of
KZN, to fully investigate the underlying cause and nature of the COVID-19
outbreak it its St Augustine’s Hospital in Durban. Four people have died of the
virus at the hospital since the beginning of March while more than 60 people
including 47 doctors and other staff connected to the hospital have tested positive.

Netcare CEO Dr Richard Friedland says 33 of
the 47 who tested positive are in self-isolation and a further 14 are being
accommodated by Netcare to ensure that they are able to safely self-quarantine.
Of those who tested positive, one person has since tested negative following
his period of self-quarantine and has since returned to work.

Expressing his condolences to the families
of the deceased, Dr Friedland said the hospital has a total of 15 pre-existing community
acquired COVID-19 patients in its dedicated COVID-19 isolation units at
present. Of these patients, one person has recovered and tested negative and is
expected to be discharged shortly.

“Unfortunately, with COVID-19 people can
transmit the virus before they show symptoms that can be screened for, and
where one person is contagious the virus can very quickly spread to others. For
this reason, among other precautions Netcare took the extraordinary measure
some weeks ago of suspending visiting and public entry to its hospitals except
for in specific exceptional circumstances and closed its pharmacies and coffee
shops,” Dr Friedland explained.

“The ideal would be if all healthcare
facilities could test, and not just screen, every person coming into our
hospitals, and to do that on a repeat basis as some may at first test negative.
The reality in South Africa, however, makes this impossible, so the risk
remains of COVID-19 entering our hospitals, and any other hospitals, in this
way despite our best efforts to prevent this from happening,” he added.

Dr Friedland denied reports that some staff members and doctors at the hospital and other facilities have not been provided with appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) on an ongoing basis.

“No Netcare facility has ever expected of a staff member to work without appropriate PPE.  Our PPE policy includes a directive on the wearing of masks during the COVID-19 pandemic which is, in fact, more conservative in that it provides greater protection than the current recommendations and guidelines of two highly respected health organisations, namely the World Health Organization (WHO) and the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD),” Dr Friedland noted.

In addition 16 750 healthcare workers, other staff members and doctors have been retrained on the appropriate and correct use of personal protective equipment, and compliance in this regard is being closely monitored.

“Since the spread of infections began as a result of two patients, who were admitted for other medical reasons and initially had no travel history or symptoms of COVID-19 but subsequently tested positive, we have been in close consultation with the KZN DoH and the NICD and continue to strictly follow their guidance and instructions,” said Dr Friedland.

“We fully understand and empathise with the concerns regarding the serious situation at Netcare St Augustine’s Hospital and we wish to assure patients, staff, doctors and the community that all efforts and resources are being directed at containing the outbreak and keeping everyone safe.

“All the findings from the in-depth investigation will be fully assessed and used to strengthen and further improve existing processes and protocols. These will be shared across the group and with all other involved and interested parties,” Dr Friedland concluded.

Some of the additional measures implemented
at the hospital to contain the virus are:

  • The hospital’s emergency department was
    closed on the evening 2 April 2020 and all planned surgery and admissions
    cancelled until further notice.
  • The process to completely decontaminate and
    disinfect the entire hospital through deep cleaning began on 2 April 2020 and
    remains ongoing. As an additional precaution terminal cleaning using a high
    dosage of chlorine, followed by disinfection with the aid of ultra-violet
    disinfection robots is being done.
  • There are a total of 1982 people working
    on the campus of Netcare St Augustine’s Hospital, inclusive of healthcare
    workers, nurses, contractors and doctors. More than half of these individuals
    have already been swabbed. Thus far, 504 people have tested negative and  the results of 318 are awaited. These results
    are reported on a daily basis to the head of the KZN Department of Health’s
    (DOH) COVID-19 task team.
  • As a further precaution, Netcare St
    Augustine’s Hospital has been contacting all patients who were treated at the
    emergency department or admitted into the hospital as from 1 March 2020. This
    is to determine if any of these patients require any further investigation or
    testing.
  • A dedicated 24-hour communication channel
    to manage queries as well as to answer other concerns which our patients may
    have, has been set up.
  • Individuals who have visited Netcare St
    Augustine’s Hospital or have been in hospital since 1 March 2020 can contact
    the 24-hour helpline on 0800 111 266 if they have not as yet heard from the
    hospital.
  • COVID-19 symptomatic screening of all
    persons working in the hospital is continuing on a daily basis, as some
    individuals could be asymptomatic but start showing symptoms in following days.
    Where indicated by the screening, swabbing and testing is then carried out. The
    aim of this is to identify, as early as possible, any persons who may be
    infected, in order to prevent the spread of the virus.
  • All screening and testing are being done in
    close consultation and collaboration with the KwaZulu-Natal Department of
    Health.
Source: Netcare media release