Thursday, November 30, 2023

Riverside, Sentara: Health care workers testing positive for the coronavirus

(WYDaily file/Courtesy of Unspalsh)
(WYDaily file/Courtesy of Unspalsh)

As local health districts deal with the spike in coronavirus cases in Hampton Roads and on the Peninsula, health care workers treating coronavirus patients in hospitals are also putting themselves at risk for the virus.

And in some cases, testing positive for COVID-19 themselves.

Gov. Ralph Northam signed an executive order Tuesday to stop alcohol sales at 10 p.m. limit indoor dining to 50 percent capacity and reduce gatherings from 250 people to 50.

The guidelines affect Williamsburg, James City County, York County, Virginia Beach, Chesapeake, Norfolk, Suffolk, Portsmouth, Hampton, Newport News and Poquoson.

“This is about stopping the spread of COVID-19 in Hampton Roads,” Northam said Tuesday. “It happens when too many people gather together, when too many people are non-compliant and as I’ve said before when too many people are selfish.”

The governor’s order starts Thursday at midnight and is expected to last at a minimum two weeks.

But even with restrictions that protect the public, health care workers on the frontlines of the pandemic have to be extra careful to protect themselves.

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, health care employees with a high risk exposure are those who enter the rooms of patients infected by the virus or provide care for infected individuals. Those with very high risks are employees performing  aerosol-generating procedures, such as intubation, and employees that are collecting or handling specimens from known or suspected coronavirus patients.

Medical staff at Sentara Healthcare have a number of precautions to protect themselves from the virus, such as enhanced cleaning protocols, mask mandates and extra social distancing measures.

Sentara also encourages patients and doctors to engage in telehealth practices whenever possible and requires all employees who enter the hospital to take part in a no-touch temperature check.

Sentara is also implementing practices recommended by the OSHA which includes limiting the opportunities for touch contamination and differentiating clean areas covered in personal protective equipment from potentially contaminated areas.

And so far, those techniques seem to be working.

“We’ve actually had low minimal exposure to staff from patients,” said Kelly Kennedy, spokeswoman for Sentara. “We’re very fortunate in that respect because we’ve put very robust protocols into place.”

Kennedy said more often than not, staff are exposed to the virus when they’re out in the community rather than in any medical facilities. If a staff member is exposed to the virus, they report the exposure to their supervisor who will give them direction on how to move forward.

Sentara doesn’t keep data on the number of staff who have had the virus, Kennedy said.

WYDaily asked Riverside in an email how many health care workers, specifically doctors, were in direct contact with COVID-19 patients and how many health care staff members tested positive for the virus.

“As more people in the area are diagnosed positive, Riverside, like all healthcare organizations, is seeing more employees affected by community spread of the virus,” Shannon Shumate, spokeswoman for Riverside Health System, wrote in an email Wednesday. “When we learn of one of our staff who has been diagnosed, we utilize a central exposure team that does detailed contact tracing within all our facilities to ensure that risks to patients are minimized.”

She said Riverside can test its staff quickly in-house.

“This has been an ongoing effort for many months at Riverside, and at most larger health care organizations,” Shumate said. “The only meaningful change over the past few weeks is that we are seeing increasing utilization of the central exposure team and our use of in-house testing due to the increased presence of the virus in the Hampton Roads area.”

Shumate said the number of health care workers who tested positive is low.

“With regards to the number of employees at Riverside who have tested positive since the start of the pandemic, we can confirm that the percentage of team members who have tested positive has remained extremely low, and of those who have tested positive, because of our detailed contact tracing, we have identified that the majority of those were as a result of community spread,” she said.

She did not elaborate.

As of Wednesday there are 87,993 cases, 7,738 hospitalizations and 2,125 deaths statewide, according to the Virginia Department of Health’s COVID-19 Daily Dashboard.

The Peninsula Health District numbers are as follows:

The number of coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and death in the Peninsula Health District. (WYDaily/ Screenshot courtesy of the Virginia Department of Health)
The number of coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and death in the Peninsula Health District. (WYDaily/ Screenshot courtesy of the Virginia Department of Health)


Julia Marsigliano
Julia Marsigliano
Julia Marsigliano is a multimedia reporter for WYDaily. She covers everything on the Peninsula from local government and law enforcement agencies to family-run businesses and weather updates. Before WYDaily, she covered Hampton and Newport News for WYDaily’s sister publication, HNNDaily before both publications merged in December 2018. Julia was born in Tokyo, Japan and moved to Long Island, New York in 2001. A true New Yorker, she loves pizza, bagels and good Chinese food. Send comments, tips and other tidbits to You can follow her on Twitter at @jmarsigliano

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