SINGAPORE: A total of 76 members of staff at Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH) have been placed on leave of absence after a cluster of COVID-19 cases was detected, said the hospital's CEO Dr Eugene Soh on Friday (Apr 30).
Speaking at a press conference by the COVID-19 multi-ministry task force, Dr Soh said the growing cluster is of particular concern, and the hospital is “acting fast with a three-pronged approach” to contain and control infections, while securing the safety of patients and staff members.
The first step includes immediate containment measures to treat and isolate staff members or patients, said Dr Soh.
“We have also identified patients and staff who are close contacts of the positive cases. Today, we have transferred 61 patients, including the confirmed patients to the National Centre for Infectious Diseases (NCID).
“We have since also placed 76 of our staff who have been in close contact on leave of absence (LOA), awaiting their quarantine orders based on further contact tracing,” said Dr Soh.
But he anticipates that possibly "a couple of hundred" staff members could be placed on LOA as contact tracing continues.
READ: 'I'm used to it already': Tan Tock Seng Hospital staff on the risks of working at the heart of a COVID-19 cluster
To deal with the manpower situation, the hospital has reduced non-urgent electives, and re-directed non life-threatening Accident & Emergency cases to other hospitals.
In addition, outpatient appointments are being reviewed, with less urgent ones to be rescheduled.
A total of four hospital wards have now been locked down, Dr Soh said, up from two wards on Thursday.
This mean there will be no movement in and out of those wards, Dr Soh explained.
"Even then, when we do move (patients for essential testing), we take full precautions in moving them. That is essential for us to put a barrier here to make sure that we keep the patients in the ward safe, as well as keep those outside the wards safe," he said.
There is also a dedicated team of staff members caring for patients in these wards.
Other patients and staff members in these wards have been swabbed. “So far, the first swab results for these other patients are all negative. They are being monitored actively for their health and well-being,” said Dr Soh.
Dr Soh added that the hospital has stepped up clinical surveillance of all inpatients who develop fever or related symptoms.
“However, patients with COVID-19 may be asymptomatic. And hence, this underlies the challenges with the diagnosis and surveillance of these patients,” he added.
Members of staff at TTSH have also been reminded to be vigilant with their twice-daily temperature taking, and to see on-site healthcare workers if they are unwell.
Compliance with safety and hygiene measures has also been reinforced, Dr Soh said. In addition, the hospital is cleaning and disinfecting more frequently, including for the wards that have been locked down.
CASTING THE NET WIDER
Dr Soh said there are currently 1,100 inpatients and 4,500 staff members working at inpatient wards at the hospital – all of whom will be swabbed.
All inpatients will be swabbed by Friday evening, while the group of 4,500 employees will complete their swab tests by the weekend, Dr Soh added.
Visitors are not allowed at the hospital except on a case-by-case basis for patients who are critically ill.
“While the above measures are to contain, control and cast a wide net, we may pick up further cases, which we will quickly isolate (after which we will) lock down the ward concerned.
“We have also mobilised our patient officers and welfare officers to support the wellbeing of our patients and the staff during this period,” Dr Soh said.
4 WORKERS AND 2 PATIENTS HAD BEEN VACCINATED
Associate Professor Kenneth Mak, the Health Ministry’s director of medical services, also provided more details on the cases in the TTSH cluster.
Of the 13 cases, five are TTSH employees, comprising two doctors, one nurse, one healthcare assistant and one cleaner who worked in the ward where the cluster first emerged.
Four out of five had been vaccinated, he said.
The remaining eight are patients - seven of whom were from Ward 9D, where the cluster had emerged, while another was from Ward 9C.
Out of the eight, one patient had received both doses of the vaccine, while another had only received one.
Assoc Prof Mak said those who received vaccinations derived some level of immune protection from the vaccines.
“But as is illustrated by this cluster, vaccination doesn't provide 100 per cent protection. It increases your resistance to getting symptomatic infections, it reduces the risk of you getting an infection and spreading that.
“And the vaccinations would remain protective for the wide majority of the population and staff who had received those vaccinations,” he explained.
He added that preliminary investigations have been done and will continue to be carried out.
“So far, there are no issues with the quality of the vaccine that they have received, nor any concerns about the cold chain supply of vaccines to the vaccination centres where they had received the vaccination,” he said.
“It is certainly a possibility that these reflect vaccination breakthrough cases, but require further study before we can properly characterise them, and this is ongoing.”
WORKING WITH OTHER HEALTHCARE INSTITUTIONS
Assoc Prof Mak added that TTSH is working with other healthcare institutions, which have been reminded to stay vigilant in the surveillance of patients who have symptoms of the virus.
They also remain ready to receive and treat any patient with COVID-19 infection, he said, adding that “they all have COVID-19 beds and resources on standby”.
“We have also asked them to be on standby to support Tan Tock Seng in its management of this outbreak. And if necessary, we will augment the hospital with additional resources to ensure that care of patients in the hospital is not compromised,” he said.