A total of 42 staff had tested positive. Most of those infections had happened in the past two weeks.
A total of 42 staff had tested positive. Most of those infections had happened in the past two weeks.

More than 40 staffers at Durban medical facility test positive for Covid-19

By Sakhiseni Nxumalo Time of article published Jun 26, 2020

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Durban - A report by the chief executive of Inkosi Albert Luthuli Central Hospital has revealed that 42 staff members have tested positive for Covid-19, resulting in high absenteeism from non-infected staff who were afraid of contracting the virus.

During an oversight visit by the ­KwaZulu-Natal Legislature Health Portfolio Committee to the hospital yesterday, Dr Thandeka Khanyile said one of their biggest challenges was that an increasing number of staff were calling in sick as the infection rate increased.

She said the growing number of staff being infected with Covid-19, had had a huge impact on the hospital’s ability to render services.

In her presentation to the committee, Khanyile said as of Wednesday, 42 staff had tested positive. Most of those infections had happened in the past two weeks.

Khanyile said staff infected with the virus were either in quarantine at home or at government facilities.

For the months of May and June, the hospital had admitted 42 infected patients, seven of whom had died.

Khanyile said the trend was that immediately after a staff member tested positive, several workers from that unit would call in sick the next day.

Khanyile said if workers had not come into contact with a positive case, they were regarded as “no risk” as per the guideline.

Therefore, they should continue to work, she said.

“What we are seeing is that people are falling sick en masse in the hospital. On a day that someone tests positive, the rest of the team books off sick for up to four days.”

She said this situation had been difficult to deal with and they were looking at ways of investigating all those on sick leave.

“However, we also don’t want to be seen like we are blind to there being a problem for our staff to be off sick.”

Khanyile said if this trend continued, it would push the hospital management to close hospital units that did not have sufficient numbers of staff to run them.

She said normally units were closed because of contamination and not because of staff issues.

“This is a huge challenge that we are facing as the hospital. We are continuing with our outbreak response workshops.

“We believe that if people have adequate information and understanding, they will respond appropriately to the situation,” said Khanyile.

KZN Legislature Health Portfolio Committee chairperson Nomakiki Majola said regular workshops and training were important to address the fears among workers.

“We are all afraid because no one is safe from the virus,” said Majola.

Members of the provincial legislature in the health portfolio committee visited hospitals in KZN this week to check the state of readiness as the virus peaks, and any challenges they may face.

Majola also raised concerns about the backlog of Covid-19 results from the National Health Laboratory Service (NHLS), with some hospitals waiting up to a week for the results.

Professor Pravi Moodley, a virologist from the NHLS, said the backlog was because of the delay of manufactured testing equipment arriving from overseas.

“Because of the international travel restrictions, we now have to wait for more than a week to receive testing kits,” he said

“We are now getting deliveries every five or seven days, instead of daily.

“The manufacturing contributed greatly to our delay.

“Also, in the early phase of the pandemic, we had a community screening and testing strategy which was done daily. Those numbers also overwhelmed the shortages that we were already experiencing,” said Moodley.

A nurse at the hospital, who spoke to The Mercury yesterday on condition of anonymity, said there were too many workers infected at the hospital and too many staff were staying away because they were afraid of catching the virus.

“On some days you will find about 80% of the team is absent because someone has tested positive. Staff fear for their lives and those of their families,” said the nurse.

“When people around us test positive, there is an automatic assumption that we all have the virus,” said the nurse.

Democratic Nursing Organisation of South Africa spokesperson in the eThekwini region Andile Mbheje confirmed that they had received many reports of nurses being afraid.

He said staff in the Intensive Care Unit in particular were being overworked - working long shifts without a break.

“According to the Basic Conditions of Employment Act, it doesn’t allow the staff to work more than five hours without a break. This needs to be urgently looked at,” said Mbheje.

The KZN Department of Health had not responded to questions at the time of publication.

The Mercury

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