COVID-19 outbreak at Backus Hospital affects at least 9 staff
Norwich — State Department of Public Health officials are investigating a COVID-19 outbreak that has infected at least nine staff at Backus Hospital and could be linked to an earlier outbreak at Three Rivers Healthcare, the Norwich nursing home where 21 cases and three deaths associated with the disease have occurred.
A Backus nurse who developed COVID-19 symptoms last Thursday and got back a positive test result Sunday said nine staff on her unit — "E3" — have tested positive and that she’s heard from colleagues that more have become ill.
“I have never been this sick in my entire life,” Shanon Pereira, 31, of Colchester said Wednesday night.
Pereira said her mother, who cares for her 2-year-old son, got back a positive test result Wednesday and that she was waiting for the result of a test of her son, who has a high fever.
The DPH review will involve looking into the possible link between the outbreak at Three Rivers and the outbreak at Backus, where at least one patient from the nursing home was treated. A department spokesman, Av Harris, said he could not comment on the specifics of the investigation.
Hartford HealthCare, which owns Backus, said it is working with DPH on the review. Hartford HealthCare did not provide any information about the magnitude of the Backus outbreak.
“Backus Hospital has identified an individual lapse in inappropriate use of PPE,” Dr. Ajay Kumar, Hartford HealthCare’s chief clinical officer, said in a statement, referring to the personal protective equipment doctors, nurses and other health care workers wear when treating COVID-19 patients and others. “Backus Hospital immediately addressed the lapse, conducted contact tracing and performed COVID-19 testing following its standard response plan. Any potential exposure has been contained and Backus Hospital is operating as usual.”
Pereira said she was told a COVID-19 patient brought to Backus from the Three Rivers nursing home was not wearing the appropriate protection.
The Backus Federation of Nurses, Local 5149 of AFT Connecticut, has been pushing for more PPE for months amid protracted contract negotiations with Hartford HealthCare. Pereira attributed her contracting COVID-19 to inadequate PPE.
“I am absolutely religious about wearing my PPE, but it’s not enough,” she said. “We are still reusing surgical masks in violation of manufacturers’ recommendations. We’re supposed to use them until they’re visibly soiled or damaged. The recommendation is eight hours of wear time is the max.”
“Exposure (to the disease) is not contained,” she said.
Kumar said the outbreak in Norwich is “a stark reminder to everyone that we must remain vigilant. Appropriate social distancing, wearing masks and hand hygiene have never been more important.”
Over the last six months, Hartford HealthCare has treated more than 2,400 COVID-19 patients, and through antibody testing has identified a transmission rate of 6.4% among health care workers, nearly the same rate as the general population, Kumar said.