COVID-19 case sends hospital into contact tracing overdrive
HEALTH authorities are working through a list of about 270 people who may have come into contact with a Cairns Hospital worker infected with COVID-19.
An extensive contact tracing effort has begun after a staff member from the hospital's Pathology Queensland laboratory became the region's seventh confirmed active coronavirus case, bringing the total infection tally to 33.
State chief health officer Jeanette Young said the virus transmission likely came from a person who visited the laboratory and who had since been confirmed as carrying the virus.
Nearly 60 of the infected worker's laboratory colleagues have been stood down and ordered to enter quarantine for a fortnight.
"It's thought that they probably contracted it from another person who had visited that laboratory, but we're just working through all the details," Dr Young said.
"We think it's very, very unlikely that they contracted by their work with any specimens.
"We think it was from contact with another person."
The new case came just days after the city cautiously celebrated a reduction in active cases to just six as a sign social distancing measures were working.
Cairns MP Michael Healy said it served as a reminder for residents to remain vigilant at all times.
"I've had people say to me: 'The curve is flattening, why can't you start lifting restrictions?'" he said.
"I likened it to a parachute - the parachute has slowed our rate of descent, but that doesn't mean we can take it off.
"We've got to isolate (the virus), we've got to kill it and make sure it is absolutely dead in our community before we start slowly opening things up.
"We can't do any of that if there are local transmissions."
The laboratory is undergoing a two-day deep clean - a practice Mr Healy has personally experienced.
His electorate office recently underwent the same rigorous sterilisation process when a staff member had a suspected case of coronavirus, which was later ruled out.
Health Minister Stephen Miles said private laboratories QML Pathology and Sullivan Nicolaides Pathology would pick up the slack during the deep clean, as well as Pathology Queensland offices in Townsville and Brisbane as necessary.
"In the meantime, we will deploy a team of staff from Brisbane to relieve those who will be required to quarantine," he said.
Cairns and Hinterland Hospital and Health Service executive director of medical services Don Mackie said it was possible the staff member contracted the virus from an infected colleague visiting from Brisbane.
"At the moment (it is) just supposition, but we're aware of another case - not necessarily close enough in time to the individual - but a person who was in the lab a while ago," he said.
"We're just working through where this has come from."
Dr Mackie said the Cairns health worker's COVID-19 infection had been confirmed after testing was completed on Wednesday.
Initial tests for co-workers who came in contact with the COVID-19 patient were expected to be completed within 24 hours, although the virus could take longer to incubate.
CHHHS executive director of medical services Don Mackie said authorities would search with a fine-tooth comb for people who potentially came into contact with the virus.
"We're looking through all staff and visitors who have been inside this pathology laboratory," Dr Mackie said.
"That's not just the staff who work in there - a whole range of people who come in and out for a whole range of perfectly valid reasons.
"We're actually looking at about 270 staff and visitors.
"What Tropical Public Health Services is doing is contacting staff who are at the most risk of transmission.
"As part of contract tracing, we'll identify whether quarantine is necessary as they go through that process."
Queensland Health has been asked for further comment.
Originally published as COVID-19 case sends Cairns Hospital into contact tracing overdrive