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One dead, 13 more infected after COVID-19 outbreak at Harborview Medical Center

The cluster around a surgical unit includes 10 staff and four patients who have tested positive as of Friday morning within a surgical unit.

SEATTLE — A “cluster” of Harborview Medical Center patients and staff have tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

That cluster includes 10 staff and four patients who have tested positive as of Friday morning within a surgical unit. 

One of those patients died Oct. 8 after testing positive, despite all the precautions put in place, according to Dr. John Lynch, medical director of Infection Prevention & Control at Harborview Medical Center. That person had underlying health conditions.

"This thing, it just preys upon any gap," Lynch said.

It is the hospital's first coronavirus outbreak.

Lynch believes a health care worker likely let his or her guard down and contracted the disease, bringing it to the unit which is still operating but not accepting new patients.

"Whenever those slip-ups happen this virus can come in and cause this kind of problem. It's a challenge for all of us in the community. COVID fatigue is true for health care workers as much, if not more than it is, for other members of the community."

Lynch said the virus may have been spread through contact with someone's eye.

No healthcare workers who tested positive have been hospitalized and are recovering at home.

The outbreak was first detected between Sept. 29 and Oct. 2.

Harborview has spent the last week-and-a-half testing staff and patients. Lynch said any healthcare worker who was not wearing eye protection in the unit was potentially exposed. About 30 employees have been quarantined out of precaution.

The three patients still being treated were in the hospital for more than 14 days when they contracted the virus. That is longer than COVID-19 symptoms typically take to appear. Lynch said they are now trying to figure out how the virus snuck into the unit and spread.

“We are looking through every single hour, shift, day of overlap between patients and healthcare workers... to try to provide some additional insight," Lynch said.

Lynch said they are "functioning on the assumption that this was linked to healthcare worker activity." However, it will be "very hard to prove that because even genetic sequencing won't tell us exactly what is going on."

The surgical unit impacted by the outbreak is one where patients go before or after surgeries, and those involved in trauma. 

A total of 30 people are currently under quarantine, but it will take time to tell whether the outbreak is under control at Harborview, Lynch said.

Another round of testing is expected to occur over the next few days. Visiting restrictions will be set in place.

Lynch said we will likely see more outbreaks like this unless we get the virus under control.

"Until we get community levels under better control all health care facilities, all health care workers are going to be at risk."