Harborview Medical Center

Harborview Medical Center in Seattle.

A COVID-19 outbreak in a surgical unit at Harborview Medical Center has killed one patient and infected three others. Ten staffers have also tested positive for the virus that causes the disease and are isolating.

The patient died Oct. 8 in the intensive care unit, said Dr. John Lynch, medical director of Harborview’s Infection Control, Antibiotic Stewardship and Employee Health programs.

Three patients who contracted the virus had been at Harborview for more than 14 days, which indicates they likely caught it at the hospital.

Harborview is working to determine how the virus got into the surgical unit, Lynch said.

The surgical unit, which serves patients coming into and out of surgery after trauma, isn’t accepting new patients. Susan Gregg, a Harborview spokesperson, said the hospital would not disclose the specific name of the unit out of concern for patient privacy, but she said the outbreak is contained to that one unit.

All 10 workers who tested positive are “recovering at home” and haven’t needed to be hospitalized, Lynch said. Thirty hospital staffers are quarantining after possible exposures, Lynch said.

Isolating staff members who may have been exposed hasn’t put Harborview in a staffing crunch, Lynch said.

“We are never below our appropriate staffing levels, and our appropriate safe staffing levels,” he said.

The hospital is doing surveillance testing of patients and staff, and is restricting visitors, Lynch said.

Lynch said Harborview has been doing its best to keep patients safe — for instance, everyone wears masks, and any worker with symptoms is told to stay home — but the virus “just preys upon any gap.”

“We have a lot of shared spaces and a lot of very sick people in our facility,” he said.

Until the virus’s spread throughout the community gets under control, Lynch added, all health care facilities are at risk.

“I’m not blaming anyone,” Lynch said. “This is really a problem of the larger pandemic and the impact it’s having on people.”

The Washington state Department of Health (DOH), as of Oct. 10, has counted 321 outbreaks in health care settings, which includes hospitals, outpatient clinics, behavioral health facilities, supported living facilities, home health care, dialysis centers and independent senior living facilities.

An additional 659 outbreaks have been recorded among long-term care facilities during that time period, according to a statewide COVID-19 outbreak report published Thursday.

This is Harborview’s first outbreak, Lynch said.

To be considered an outbreak, the Department of Health requires at least two individuals to record positive coronavirus tests, at least two cases in which symptoms began within 14 days of one another and plausible evidence of transmission at a shared location that is not a household.

The Seattle Times submitted a public disclosure request to DOH earlier this month for reports and data about outbreaks in health care settings. The agency said it would provide records by July of next year.

Hospitals across the state have struggled with outbreaks.

At least 73 people have tested positive for the novel coronavirus after an outbreak that began in August at St. Michael Medical Center in Bremerton, according to the Kitsap Public Health District.

EvergreenHealth in Kirkland reported an outbreak involving two patients in September.

Four employees and a patient tested positive at Virginia Mason Medical Center in Seattle in late August.

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Vicki Hillhouse can be reached at vickihillhouse@wwub.com or 509-526-8321.