A COVID-19 outbreak at PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center in Vancouver has impacted at least 10 patients and four health care workers.
“This is a wake-up call,” said Dr. Lawrence Neville, chief medical officer for the PeaceHealth Columbia Network, during an online press conference held Monday, July 19. “If it can happen here, it can happen anywhere.”
The outbreak began July 10, after a patient on the Vancouver hospital’s second floor tested positive for COVID-19.
Neville said all patients at PeaceHealth Southwest are tested for COVID upon admission. Those who test positive will remain in the 450-bed hospital’s COVID ward, while others will be tested throughout their hospital stay.
PeaceHealth is working with Clark County Public Health to determine the cause of the outbreak.
Catherine Kroll, PeaceHealth’s system director of infection prevention, said Monday there are three possible sources for the outbreak: a visitor could have brought the infection into the hospital and transmitted it to others; a health care worker could have unknowingly come to work positive for COVID-19; or a patient could have come into the hospital infected with COVID-19 but incubating the virus and not yet showing symptoms or testing positive.
PeaceHealth has contacted 44 patients who may have been impacted by the outbreak while they were at the Vancouver hospital. So far, Kroll said, none of those contacted in the community have come down with symptoms of COVID-19 or sought testing to see if they’ve contracted the virus.
Kroll said she will feel confident PeaceHealth has “identified and controlled the exposure” if none of the people contacted tests positive for COVID-10 by the end of July.
Clark County Public Health Director Dr. Alan Melnick said the PeaceHealth COVID outbreak is “another reminder that the COVID-19 pandemic is not over.”
“It’s not done with us yet,” Melnick said Monday, noting that COVID-19 case numbers are increasing nationwide, due to the highly contagious delta variant, which now accounts for roughly 41 percent of COVID-19 cases in Washington state.
Melnick said all of those impacted by the PeaceHealth outbreak will be tested for COVID variants.
“We test specimens from outbreaks, looking for not just the delta variant, but new variants that might be out there,” Melnick said.
Melnick and Neville both emphasized on Monday that the best protection against becoming ill with COVID-19 is to be vaccinated against SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.
“The medical community is nearly unanimous that vaccines are the way to go,” Neville said.
Melnick said he is concerned vaccine demand is lagging in Clark County, where 56 percent of those ages 16 and older have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19. .
“We definitely need to get those numbers higher,” Melnick said. “This outbreak points to the effectiveness of the vaccine.”
Of the 14 people who have tested positive for COVID-19 due to the PeaceHealth outbreak, five were fully vaccinated. Neville said one of the four affected health care workers was fully vaccinated, one was partially vaccinated and two were unvaccinated against COVID-19.
About 25 percent of PeaceHealth’s caregivers are not yet vaccinated against COVID, Neville said. PeaceHealth has not made the COVID-19 vaccine mandatory for its health care workers and has no plans to do so, Neville said, adding the health system “will be putting measures in place to further reduce risk” to patients and other PeaceHealth employees for those health care workers who choose to remain unvaccinated against COVID-19. The patients and health care workers impacted by the recent outbreak have had a range of symptoms, Neville said.
“The vaccinated patients seem to be completely asymptomatic, while the folks who are not vaccinated have had a range (of symptoms), from very, very mild to a few who are having more severe symptoms,” Neville said. “No one at the moment is requiring ICU-level care, which we’re really grateful for.”
Melnick said the nationwide hospital admission rate for COVID-19 patients ages 45 to 64 is 16 times higher for people who are unvaccinated against SARS-CoV-2.
“The best protection against COVID is vaccination,” Melnick said.
Neville also urged Clark County residents ages 12 and older to get the COVID vaccine.
“If a place as safe as PeaceHealth Southwest with an extraordinary public safety record can have an outbreak like this, it shows we are all extremely vulnerable to COVID re-emerging,” Neville said. “People should strongly consider getting vaccinated. There is still plenty of (COVID-19) vaccine out there.”
To find a COVID-19 vaccine location in Clark County, visit VaccineLocator.doh.wa.gov or VaccineFinder.org; call 833-VAX-HELP (833-829-4357); or text your zip code to 438829 (GET VAX).