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Psychiatric hospital staff, patients test positive for COVID-19

Staff Reporter

About 14 healthcare workers and 24 patients at the Free State Psychiatric Hospital are in isolation after they tested positive for COVID-19, The Free Stater has learnt.

The outbreak is said to have brought panic to the mental health institution with some healthcare workers suggesting the place should be closed to allow for decontamination and deep cleaning as they fear more people could be infected.

But the provincial health department has shot down the idea saying the affected places have been decontaminated and those infected were promptly isolated.

“We are aware that it’s 10 wards that are affected and all people in those environments have been isolated,” provincial health spokesperson Mondli Mvambi told The Free Stater.

“Now, they want us to close the hospital . . . that’s not going to happen,” he said.

“We are going to continue to deep-clean the environment and where we suspect that we need to do more, we are then going to decontaminate those places.”

Mvambi said of the 14 healthcare workers, nine are expected to return to duty Monday after completing 10 days of isolation as per the new regulations.

“The healthcare workers were positive but were asymptomatic,” he pointed out.

At least 18 of the 24 patients are also about to complete their isolation period.

Mvambi expressed concern that some healthcare workers at the institution might have failed to observe the set health protocols and imported the disease to the hospital because “patients are closely monitored at all times and cannot be the source of the disease”.

“We have not had any new admissions in the space of time that corresponds with these infections,” he said.

“We are not going to win the war against COVID-19 if people are not trusted battalions.

“You know, when you have got soldiers that are more prone to mutiny — because negligence of duty is tantamount to mutiny — you can’t then win the battle with such soldiers. That’s a threat.”

Mvambi said given the state of patients at the health facility, the healthcare workers are expected to exercise caution and be prepared to deal with infections because even before COVID-19 they were dealing with other serious bugs.

Democratic Nursing Organisation of South Africa (DENOSA) Free State chairperson Thibogang Talbort Thole could not immediately confirm if members of his organisation were among those infected at the psychiatric hospital.

“I do not have any information regarding DENOSA members there at this point,” Thole said.

“But having any healthcare workers testing positive for COVID-19 means the disease is putting a burden onto the healthcare service.

“If they have to be isolated or quarantined, that will add pressure on the shortage that we have already been having before the coronavirus. That’s our worry.”

Thole said as a member of the provincial steering committee on COVID-19, he was aware that at least 147 nurses from different unions and 46 doctors had tested positive for the disease across the province.

He said DENOSA was working closely with the provincial health department and he was happy with the efforts made to ensure healthcare workers have personal protective equipment (PPE) and other basic material.

“Part of what we are doing is monitoring the availability of the PPEs and, as we speak, we have enough of that in the province,” said Thole.

“The challenge maybe ensuring that all healthcare workers are abiding to the regulations and the health protocols.”

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