A cluster of COVID-19 cases within Brigham and Women’s Hospital rose to 28 confirmed cases among employees and patients alike on Friday, officials at the Boston hospital said.
“To date, 310 employees have been tested with 19 testing positive. Fifty-four patients have been tested with 9 testing positive. This brings the total cases in the cluster to 28,” the hospital said in a press release. “There are more than 600 individuals connected to the cluster who are in the process of being tested.”
Further information about specific cases was not available due to patient privacy.
The cluster was first identified by the hospital’s Infection Control team Tuesday in two inpatient units at Braunwald Tower. The team believes the virus has been contained within those units, and officials said Friday the outbreak is not impacting other areas of the hospital.
But precisely how the coronavirus infiltrated and spread in the medical center remained unclear.
“Our Infection Control team has investigated the source of the cluster through intensive contact tracing, testing, and staff interviews,” the release says. “Based on the information that we currently have, our Infection Control team is unable to determine whether the source of the cluster was a staff member or patient.”
Still, an investigation found what the hospital considered possible “contributing factors” that precipitated the spread.
Many patients did not wear masks during clinical care interactions with hospital staff, and medical providers were “inconsistent in their use of eye protection” during encounters with patients, officials said.
Additionally, the hospital said the first patient who tested positive for coronavirus received “an aerosol generating procedure prior to the positive test result,” and added that a staffer, described as having mild symptoms “consistent with historical seasonal allergies,” continued to work.
Staff members also did not physically distance while not wearing masks as they ate, according to hospital officials.
One of the units involved in the cluster has been closed and the other has remained opened as the Infection Control team “has documented a clear train of transmission,” the hospital said. Both units have been or are being cleaned.
Brigham and Women’s maintained its facilities are safe to visit.
“The Brigham is committed to creating and maintaining a safe care environment by testing all patients admitted to the hospital, requiring staff to attest to their health daily before working, requiring all staff, patients and visitors to wear hospital-issued masks while on campus, insisting on frequent hand hygiene, frequently cleaning the environment, and enforcing appropriate physical distancing,” the statement says.
On Friday, the hospital announced it is offering free COVID-19 testing for employees who have been working on its main campus since Sept. 14.
All patients (including those who have been discharged) and staff believed to have been exposed are being contacted by the Infection Control team to have testing arranged for them, the hospital said.
Staff who are symptomatic or who have tested positive for the virus have been sent home “and are not permitted to return to work until they meet our system’s return-to-work criteria,” the hospital said.
All inpatients are now being tested for the virus as well. Patients had already, under previous protocol, been tested upon admission to the hospital and screened daily for symptoms, according to officials.
Free tests will be provided to individuals who believe they were exposed to the virus as a result of the cluster, the hospital said.