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Safeguards in place to minimise Cairns COVID-19 risk

Cairns Hospital staff are being screened for coronavirus (COVID-19) as a precaution after three employees were found to have unknowingly had the disease.

The three employees, who all work in the hospital’s pathology laboratory, returned positive serology tests on Monday.

“Serology testing detects the disease after you have had it, unlike traditional PCR testing which diagnoses the disease while you have it,” Queensland’s Chief Health Officer Dr Jeannette Young said.

“The three Cairns Hospital employees who tested positive for COVID-19 had mild or no symptoms and did not realise they had the disease, which is why they did not get tested. As a precaution, they have been placed in self-quarantine, even though they are not feeling unwell or likely to be infectious.

“As a further precaution, Cairns Hospital is starting to screen all staff working from today to determine if there has been wider transmission. If anyone says they have symptoms or have had symptoms since 19 March, they will be referred to the fever clinic for testing. Contact tracing is also continuing.

“It’s important to understand that there is a low risk of further transmission but we need to make every effort possible to ensure this disease does not spread further.”

Executive Director of Medical Services at Cairns and Hinterland HHS Dr Don Mackie said performing screening health checks on all staff working at the hospital was a big undertaking.

“We are taking this very precautionary measure to help eliminate any possible transmission and to reassure our staff and community that we are taking this incredibly seriously,” he said.

“I also want to reassure our patients and community that Cairns Hospital remains open and it is safe to come to and receive care.”

The tests were ordered after a Cairns Hospital pathology worker was diagnosed with COVID-19 on 16 April. A Brisbane-based technician who visited the lab on 19 and 20 March and was diagnosed with the disease when he returned home is believed to be the source of infection.

Tropical Public Health Services has since contacted 247 out of the 257 people and received results for 112 standard (PCR) tests, all of which came back negative.

Dr Young appealed for anyone in Cairns who had symptoms including a cough, shortness of breath, sore throat and fever to get tested for COVID-19 and remain at home, even if they were essential workers.

“Like everyone in Queensland, Cairns residents have done a magnificent job of protecting themselves and others by respecting health advice and we’re asking everyone to continue practising good hygiene, social distancing and home isolation.”

Other people who spent time in the laboratory between 19 March - 17 April are asked to please email Tropical Public Health Services with their name, phone number, when they visited the laboratory, and for how long, to EOC_TRS_CNS@health.qld.gov.au.

To get tested for COVID-19, please contact your GP, or phone 4226 4781 for a drive-through fever clinic appointment at either Cairns North (7 days a week) or at Edmonton Community Health Centre (Monday-Friday), or go to the nearest hospital emergency department.

A terminal deep clean of the pathology laboratory was conducted on Friday and Saturday and the laboratory reopened at 4pm on Saturday 18 April.

Last updated: 21 April 2020