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More than 1,000 staff members out of around 2,000 at St. Michael Medical Center have been tested as of Wednesday as the hospital works to control an outbreak of COVID-19. (Photo: Austen Macalus / Kitsap Sun)

Kitsap Public Health officials and hospital leaders announced additional measures they are taking to contain a COVID-19 outbreak at St. Michael Medical Center in Bremerton that has grown to at least 49 of confirmed cases since early August.  

The Kitsap Public Health District said Wednesday it plans to test all employees at St. Michael “as rapidly as possible.” To do so, the Kitsap County Emergency Operations Center has mobilized more than 50 volunteers to help with testing hospital employees, according to a health district statement. 

“The outbreak at St. Michael is hugely concerning for our community and all of us at Kitsap Public Health. We are marshaling every resource at our disposal to prevent additional illness and protect public health,” Kitsap Health Officer Dr. Gib Morrow said in the statement. 

The outbreak has now infected 33 staff and 16 patients as of Wednesday afternoon, Kitsap Public Health reported Thursday. 

More than 1,000 staff members out of around 2,000 at the hospital have already been tested as of Wednesday, according to an online update by CHI Franciscan, the Tacoma-based health care system that runs St. Michael. Testing hospital employees is expected to continue throughout this week and follow-up testing is also planned.

The hospital is also quarantining more than 115 employees as they wait for test results. In addition to asking all hospital staff who are sick or experiencing flu-like symptoms to stay home, St. Michael is quarantining staff who may have experienced higher-risk exposure to COVID-19. 

Other staff members are still instructed to come in for work, even if they haven’t yet been tested or are awaiting their results. 

Those measures are in accordance with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Dr. Michael Anderson, CHI Franciscan’s chief medical officer.

The hospital is also temporarily restricting non-urgent procedures at both the Bremerton and Silverdale campuses, which will only be providing urgent and emergent care. That’s  to ensure the facilities can maintain adequate staff capacity and continue providing care, according to CHI Franciscan’s update. 

The emergency departments at both hospitals remain open, along with the Silverdale birth center. Hospital officials say patients should not delay seeking care if they are facing emergencies, such as heart attack and stroke symptoms, or injuries like broken bones. Patients with scheduled non-urgent, elective procedures will be contacted to reschedule.

The Kitsap Public Health District declared an outbreak at the Bremerton hospital on Aug. 14. The hospital notified Kitsap health officials about its first case in an employee on Aug. 4, though health investigators did not find any close contacts at St. Michael’s at the time. But a week later, five additional cases were found to be connected to one unit at the hospital.

Since that time, the hospital, state health officials and Kitsap Public Health have scrambled to contain the situation and determine its origins through case investigations, contact tracing and testing of patients and staff members.  

“In addition to our contact tracing work, we have activated and are coordinating a comprehensive, multi-agency response to identify the full extent of the outbreak and control its spread,” Morrow said. “We are confident that continued, aggressive action will successfully resolve this situation and help prevent future cases.”

On Wednesday, the Kitsap Public Health District sent a new set of requests and recommendations to St. Michael, including steps to prevent additional spread and achieve better communication with the public and health officials. An infection control expert from the state Department of Health who visited the hospital on Tuesday is also expected to provide additional recommendations.

The health district also said it will develop an “incident command structure” to coordinate the outbreak response and streamline data sharing. 

In a letter sent to the hospital Wednesday, Kitsap Public Health requested that St. Michael provide a range of information to help identify all staff and patients who have been infected with COVID-19 infection or had significant exposure to the virus. That includes lists of employees and patients who have been tested, individuals who receive positive results, inpatients with COVID-19 and staff who have been quarantined. 

In addition to ongoing testing of patients, Kitsap Public Health District is also asking the hospital to test all patients who are discharged if they haven’t been tested in more than three days, according to the letter. 

The health district says it also has obtained testing from a “regional laboratory” to provide prompt results — efforts that successfully obtained testing specimens for more than 700 staff members on Tuesday. 

The Kitsap County Emergency Operations Center  which has been coordinating volunteers from the county’s emergency management department, disaster aid nonprofit Empact Northwest and the Bainbridge Island Medical Reserve Corps to aid testing efforts  has also continued to offer large stocks of personal protective equipment for the hospital.

Austen Macalus is the Kitsap Sun’s social services reporter — covering health care, homelessness and how programs are serving those in need. He can be reached at austen.macalus@kitsapsun.com or 360-536-6423. 

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