An outbreak of COVID-19 at Newton-Wellesley Hospital has infected nine employees and possibly one patient in the hospital’s endoscopy unit, the latest cluster of infection at a Massachusetts hospital.
All of the people infected had mild symptoms, and none were sick enough to be admitted to the hospital for COVID, said Dr. Matthew Leibowitz, Newton-Wellesley’s chief of infectious diseases.
Hospital officials identified the cases from Nov. 5 to Nov. 15 and realized there was a cluster of infection after three employees in the same unit reported symptoms, Leibowitz said. They offered free tests to any patients who spent more than 15 minutes with an employee who had COVID, and mostly closed their endoscopy unit for three days for a “deep cleaning.” The unit reopened Wednesday.
The employees who became infected include six nurses, two technicians, and one physician, Leibowitz said Wednesday.
One patient who tested negative for COVID before his procedure tested positive a few days later, after being exposed to one of the infected hospital employees. The patient was admitted to the hospital for other reasons, not for COVID, and has been discharged, according to hospital officials.
It’s unclear whether the outbreak started with a patient or with an employee. It’s possible that a member of the staff became infected outside the hospital — or became infected in a break room, where employees remove their masks to eat and drink — and started spreading the virus before feeling symptoms, Leibowitz said.
Patients are tested for COVID before they’re admitted to the hospital, and three days before a scheduled procedure, such as a colonoscopy.
“It’s very difficult to tell what the initial exposure might have been,” Leibowitz said, noting that transmission of the virus is rising again in Massachusetts.
“We looked at all of our aspects of process for patients, process for the staff, and we’re going to make sure there is extra vigilance going on across the hospital with community transmission rates increasing so much,” he said.
The Newton-Wellesley endoscopy unit is where patients go for colonoscopies and other gastrointestinal procedures. Health care workers typically wear masks, eye protection, gowns, and gloves during those procedures.
This is the second outbreak at the Newton-Wellesley campus in recent weeks. In late October, five employees in a medical office building next to the hospital became infected.
The Newton-Wellesley outbreaks are among several that have been reported at Massachusetts hospitals this year, including one at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in September, which infected 42 employees and 15 patients. Other pockets of infection have been reported at Tufts Medical Center, New England Baptist Hospital, Baystate Medical Center, and other hospitals.
Many hospital workers have contracted COVID since the pandemic hit Massachusetts in March, though hospital officials say those cases are mostly the result of community transmission, not infection from a sick patient. At Newton-Wellesley Hospital alone, 179 employees, or about 4.5 percent of the workforce, have tested positive for COVID this year.