Public health officials and officials at a Bremerton hospital still haven’t reported the extent of a COVID-19 outbreak among hospital patients and staff that was initially described as involving more than 30 cases.
Late Friday afternoon, officials announced an outbreak of “more than 30 cases” at St. Michael Medical Center, formerly known as Harrison Medical Center, in a joint statement by Kitsap Public Health District and the Washington State Department of Health (DOH).
The statement said the outbreak had struck “multiple” units at the 260-bed hospital, and that patients who had been discharged from those units had been notified.
But by Saturday night, neither St. Michael nor the two health agencies would give a more precise figure for the number of cases in the outbreak, and one health official indicated that investigators were still trying to determine the outbreak’s scale.
“We did not release a specific case number Friday because reports were still coming in from the hospital on Friday afternoon and case investigations were ongoing,” said Tad Sooter, spokesperson for Kitsap Public Health District. “The situation has been changing rapidly.”
Tacoma-based CHI Franciscan, St. Michael’s parent company, was less forthcoming. “Public health authorities are tracking COVID-19 infections and sharing information on a cadence and geographic level appropriate for the community while respecting patient privacy,” said Cary Evans, CHI Franciscan’s vice president for communications and government affairs, in a statement Saturday evening. “Please refer to public health authorities for the latest information about COVID-19 infections.”
On its website Saturday, St. Michael said the hospital was “working closely with the state health department and Kitsap Public Health and performing contact tracing and ongoing testing.”
The first case linked to the St. Michael outbreak was reported “late last week,” according to Friday’s joint statement. On Saturday, health officials and the hospital declined to provide a specific date for that first case or to offer any details about how quickly the case count grew.
Officials with the hospital and Kitsap Public Health District said Saturday they would have updated case figures Monday.
CHI Franciscan was recently criticized by workers at St. Michael for not providing adequate personal protective equipment, according to a July report in the Kitsap Sun. Hospital staff said they had to reuse N95 face masks and patch face shields with tape. A CHI Franciscan spokesperson told the newspaper the network has provided its hospitals necessary supplies.
The hospital has 1,800 employees. According to the LinkedIn page for Harrison Medical Center, it is “the largest private employer in Kitsap County.”
The hospital said all visitors are screened for COVID-19 symptoms, asked to sanitize their hands and required to wear a mask while inside.
There have been 912 COVID-19 cases, including eight deaths, reported in Kitsap County, according to DOH. Roughly a fourth of those cases have been reported since Aug. 1.
Staff reporter Asia Fields contributed to this report.