More than three dozen workers connected with a single unit at St. Rose Hospital in Hayward tested positive for the coronavirus in late May, a spokesman disclosed Friday.
Of the hospital’s 780 employees, 37 tested positive and a majority (26) were workers on the same medical/surgical/telemetry unit. Two additional workers who had the virus interacted regularly with that part of the hospital and nine had occasional contact.
Alameda County public health officials and the state health department’s health care infections program investigated the cases and are working with the hospital that serves many low-income residents to protect public health, said county spokeswoman Neetu Balram.
Officials directed St. Rose to conduct weekly testing of patients and staff in the hardest hit unit, contain COVID-19 patients to one area, and ensure staff caring for them do not interact with others. The hospital should also check whether staff have symptoms, are wearing masks, and can social distance.
“We are continually assessing the facility’s implementation of measures to protect staff and patients from COVID-19 and prevent its further spread within the facility,” Balram said.
None of the 37 infected workers at St. Rose were hospitalized and half have been cleared to go back to work after quarantine, hospital spokesman Sam Singer said. He also said there’s not sufficient evidence to date that staff were infected by patients, but the hospital and county are looking into whether they were exposed to the virus by other workers.
“That’s a possibility that’s being investigated,” he said.
Singer said the hospital follows Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines to keep workers safe and “has an adequate supply of (personal protective equipment) for future use.”
“The hospital takes the safety of its staff very seriously,” Singer said. “The county is looking at continuing to ensure that all rules and regulations are being followed to a ‘T.’”
Some nurses on the hard-hit unit disputed there was enough personal protective gear and testing before the outbreak to keep them safe. They want more information about how many employees got sick and who might have been exposed. CDC relaxed its guidance to allow health care workers to reuse N95 masks amid a national supply shortage during the pandemic, which some nurses argued increases their risk of infection.
“I think any trained nurse or medical professional could clearly see that this outbreak correlates directly to lack of personal protective equipment being available at St. Rose Hospital, especially with the shelter in place that’s going on,” said Morgan Waggener, a nurse on the unit hit hardest by the outbreak and member of the California Nurses Association.
She said before the county required everyone to wear masks two months ago, nurses on the unit had access to surgical masks but wore them only when ordered by a doctor with a specific patient. When some nurses started to get COVID-19 symptoms in May, it wasn’t hospital policy at the time to test workers, Singer confirmed. Waggener said her co-workers sought out their own tests and shared their positive results with others.
“It did scare me that maybe I had it and maybe I was asymptomatic and maybe I had exposed my own family that I live with, because I don’t have any other choice but to go home after work,” said Waggener, who lives with her parents.
Not all nurses said they felt at risk. Daljit Basi, who works in the outpatient surgery unit, said she always had access to ample personal protective equipment, including masks, gloves, gowns and head covers. She knew about the cluster of cases in the other unit, but accepted it as part of a pandemic.
“The risk is there,” she said. “Did you get it from the hospital or bring it from the community? It’s everywhere.”
Since the outbreak, Waggener said nurses in her unit have more access to N95s. The cases also triggered ongoing testing across the hospital, Singer said. Waggener said she has been tested three times in the past three weeks. Basi said she has not, but got a test through her own doctor.
Waggener also was bothered that she didn’t hear directly from management about the number of infected workers, where they worked, and who might have been exposed to the virus other than an email telling her testing would now be available because workers were infected.
Singer said the hospital “communicated in detail with all staff” in accordance with hospital protocols.
Bay Area workers and unions have demanded more transparency when co-workers get infected so they can understand the risks, but hospitals are sometimes tight-lipped, citing patient privacy protections. The number of infected health care workers in California keeps climbing, with more than 11,500 confirmed cases and 68 deaths as of Friday. In Alameda County, 323 workers have been infected, Balram said.
At Santa Clara Valley Medical Center, 46 workers tested positive in April. Since then, the hospital tested more than 7,000 workers and found less than 0.2% of workers were positive, spokeswoman Joy Alexiou said.
At UCSF, 71 of 2,471 tested employees had positive coronavirus results, spokeswoman Kristen Bole said Friday. Of those, 65 recovered and returned to work and 19 were believed likely to have acquired the disease in a patient-care setting, which includes being infected by co-workers who may have gotten coronavirus in the community, Bole said.
Stanford Health Care tested 11,000 employees in May and found that only about 0.3% of those without symptoms were positive.
Mallory Moench is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: email@example.com Twitter:@mallorymoench