A staff member at a regional West Australian hospital is in quarantine after entering a lift that had been used by a coronavirus-infected ship crewman.
The potential exposure took place at Geraldton Hospital on Monday when the crew member was moved to an ambulance so he could be airlifted to Perth.
WA Health official Helen Van Gessel said the hospital worker was not involved in the patient’s transfer but had inadvertently entered the lift before it had been appropriately cleaned. They were not wearing personal protective equipment.
She insisted there was no risk to the local community in Geraldton, 420km north of Perth.
“This error was immediately identified. The staff member was sent home to isolate immediately and didn’t have any contact with the community,” Dr Van Gessel told reporters on Wednesday.
“But as we would always do in these cases, we do a really thorough post-event analysis and review and have deemed this person to be a close contact.”
The staff member, who is fully vaccinated, will be required to complete 14 days in quarantine. They will also be tested three times during that period.
Dr Van Gessel, the WA Country Health Service principal health officer, acknowledged the incident had breached the hospital’s coronavirus protocols.
“It was absolutely an error that shouldn’t have occurred,” she said.
The crew member from the MV Emerald Indah bulk carrier remains in a stable condition in isolation at Perth’s Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital.
It emerged on Wednesday that he had spent up to three hours in the emergency department at Geraldton before being moved to a negative pressure room.
Around 50 people who were in the ED at the same time will be classified as casual contacts of the crewman.
The cohort, including 28 staff and 18 patients, will be allowed to access the community but must get three coronavirus tests across a 14-day period.
WA Health infectious disease specialist Clare Huppatz said the decision was made “out of an abundance of caution” because of the prolonged time the crewman spent in the ED.
“There is a very small risk, because of that, that there might have been a transmission event within the emergency department,” she said.
All staff who were involved in the patient’s direct care and in his transfer, including paramedics, were found to have worn appropriate protective equipment.
The MV Emerald Indah remains off the coast of Kwinana, south of Perth.
WA police chief and state emergency coordinator Chris Dawson has signed an emergency order preventing the ship from docking at Kwinana.
The remaining 21 crew aboard the vessel have returned normal temperatures and are reported by WA Health as being well.