SINGAPORE: Tan Tock Seng Hospital’s (TTSH) Ward 9D will resume patient admissions on Saturday (May 22) with new safety measures in place, following an outbreak of COVID-19.
TTSH began admitting new patients progressively from Tuesday, more than three weeks after the first case at the hospital - a nurse who worked in Ward 9D, a general ward - was detected on Apr 27.
To contain the spread as the cluster grew, the hospital subsequently diverted emergency cases to other public hospitals and stopped admitting new patients.
Forty-six COVID-19 cases have since been linked to the cluster as of Friday, with two deaths.
Nurses will now have to put on personal protective equipment such as goggles and N95 masks at donning stations before they enter the wards.
Previously, they were only required to wear a surgical mask to attend the cases in general wards. There is a separate doffing station for nurses to remove their contaminated gear safely once they leave the wards.
TTSH Divisional Chairman, Adjunct Associate Professor Bernard Thong said these measures gave the hospital confidence to reopen safely.
“Together with the usual hand hygiene measures and all the safety measures, which will be again enforced during the period of time, I think that has actually helped to bring us to this level where we are today.”
The wards are now fitted with high efficiency air filters, or HEPA filters, as well as exhaust fans to enhance ventilation and airflow.
“We are able to achieve at least six to 12 air changes per hour. This is important because we want to prevent any stagnant air within a cubicle so there is a constant flow of air that moves in a uni-direction,” said Dr Hoi Shu Yin, the hospital’s chief nurse.
Dr Hoi added that this is the first time such features are introduced in general wards, and that they are likely to be a long-term measure.
The Multi-Ministry Taskforce on COVID-19 is still investigating the cause of the infection at Tan Tock Seng Hospital.
In a media briefing, the taskforce said that as the infections centred around Ward 9D, they are studying the possibility of airflow issues, among other factors.
They are also not ruling out the possibility of infections stemming from unmasked patients and visitors.
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
Staff members in the affected wards were quickly quarantined following the emergence of the cluster. While the hospital had protocols in place to handle the crisis, it was nonetheless an emotional rollercoaster ride.
"Initially I would say there was an element of shock but we are all very tuned in with our protocols and processes," said Dr Hoi.
"The staff were on quarantine so we have been meeting them over Zoom to check on them, and provide updates on what is happening at this hospital. We also want to identify anyone who is feeling more emotionally down so we can be there to support them."
For Norshahira Amat Paiman, an assistant nurse clinician in Ward 9D, her family’s safety was at the top of her mind. Like many who were quarantined, she had to be isolated from her family.
“When I was away, it was during the Ramadan period, so I had to break fast on my own but I managed to video call with my friends and family members, to cope with my loneliness.”
All inpatients and 12,000 staff had cleared a series of swab tests, before the hospital made the call to reopen.
For now, it is tightening strict protocols throughout the campus.
New patients will be swabbed upon admission and periodically throughout their stay. Those deemed medically suitable to wear surgical masks will be required to do so. Visitors must remained masked at all times.
Inpatients who develop acute respiratory infection symptoms will be tested while visitor restrictions remain at one per day for up to 30 minutes.
All staff will also need to go through routine rostered testing at regular intervals. Vaccinated staff are required to do so every two weeks, while non-vaccinated staff must be swabbed every week.