An outbreak of COVID-19 has occurred inside the largest hospital in western Massachusetts.
An employee of Baystate Medical Center who had recently traveled out-of-state brought the highly contagious coronavirus into the Springfield hospital resulting in 13 patients and 23 staff members becoming infected with COVID-19.
The outbreak was detected a week ago. It was publicaly disclosed Monday by Baystate Health President and CEO Dr. Mark Keroack, speaking at the weekly COVID-19 update by Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno.
"We're deeply disappointed this outbreak occurred," said Keroack. He said it had prompted a review of safety practices at the hospital, where 6,000 people work.
Of the 13 patients infected, seven remained hospitalized Monday with one in intensive care. Keroack said the 23 staff members are all at home with symptoms ranging from mild to none.
Local boards of health in the communities where the infected people live have been notified so contact tracing can be done. Baystate is reaching out to all patients who were in the unit where the infection happened between July 15th-23 to be tested, said Keroack.
He said testing and contact tracing is taking place for employees who spent more than 15 minutes on the unit during the same time period.
The outbreak occurred despite precautions the hospital has taken and amid repeated assurances that it is safe for people to come to the medical center for treatment of injuries and non-COVID illnesses.
"This event reinforces that COVID-19 is highly contageous and requires vigilance to contain its spread," said Keroack.
Keroack said the virus was apparently spread among employees in breakrooms where face masks were not always worn. He said the employee who had traveled to a “hot spot” for the virus was not required to quarantine before returning to work.
"It was not policy and not something we were attempting to enforce," said Keroack. He said the policy has now changed.
Dr. Robert Roose, the chief medical officer at Mercy Medical Center in Springfield, said the outbreak at Baystate is a “cautionary tale.”
"Interstate travel represents one of the greatest risks to the further spread of the coronavirus across the country," said Roose.
Last week, Gov. Charlie Baker announced new travel rules that require people who have been in states with high infection rates to quarantine for 14 days or have a negative COVID-19 test report dated within 72 hours of arriving in Massachusetts. Violators face a $500 per day fine.
The new rule takes effect August 1st, just in time for the expected arrival of tens of thousands of college students.
In Springfield, where several schools, including Western New England University, plan to have students taking classes in person and living on campus beginning in August, Health and Human Services Commissioner Helen Caulton-Harris said she is planning to meet with local college officials to discuss “standard operating procedures.”
She said these include plans for communicating with the city's board of health and contact tracing.
The Baker administration announced Monday an expansion of the “Stop the Spread” COVID-19 testing initiative in communities that have higher positive rates. There are now 16 municipalities in the program including Springfield and Agawam.
When Baker announced the program earlier this month, local state legislators complained that no communities west of Interstate-495 had been included.