A coronavirus cluster has emerged at a major teaching and research hospital in Boston, Brigham and Women’s, prompting employees to speak out about what they said was a lack of regular and convenient testing for staff members without symptoms.
As of Wednesday afternoon, 33 staff members, and 12 patients who were there for other reasons, have tested positive for the virus. The cluster was first identified last week, the hospital said in a statement.
Hospital policy requires testing all patients for the virus when they are admitted, and daily screening for symptoms thereafter, the statement said. The hospital said it would now test inpatients every three days as well, and on Friday it began offering voluntary testing to its staff. Since then, it said, 6,718 employees have been tested.
In a letter addressed to hospital leadership, a group of employees urged the hospital to go further and introduce mandatory testing of all staff members twice a week, and to keep it going past Oct. 18, when the voluntary testing is set to run out. A hospital spokesman said they would keep this testing “as long as necessary to support our testing needs.”
The letter has been signed by more than 1,000 employees, said Trish Powers, a trauma nurse at the hospital.
“We are literally putting our life on the line,” Ms. Powers said, adding, “We shouldn’t have to fight to be tested.”
A hospital spokesman addressed the letter in an email, saying that expanded testing went into effect before the hospital’s leaders received it. The hospital is providing weekly virtual forums for its staff members, which include an “opportunity for questions and answers” about the hospital’s response to the case cluster, the spokesman said.
So far, the cluster is confined to two inpatient units, the hospital said, noting in the statement that the virus might have spread in a variety of ways, including through a staff member who had mild symptoms and continued to work. In response to a Boston Globe article about the cluster, the hospital’s leadership said it did not in any way blame employees for the outbreak.
Government officials in the Boston area are concerned about a potential surge in coronavirus cases. Mayor Marty Walsh said Wednesday that Boston would postpone taking the next step in the city’s reopening plan because an increasing share of tests have been coming back positive: 3.5 percent in the week ended Sept. 26, compared with 2.7 percent the week before.
Referring to the cluster of cases among the hospital staff, Ms. Powers said, “If a lot of us get sick or test positive, then who’s going to take care of the patients if we go into a surge?”