14 North Bay hospital employees contract coronavirus; now all staff must be tested

The CEO of a North Bay Hospital told KTVU all 321 staff members are being tested for COVID-19 on Thursday after 14 employees have contracted the virus in the past month.

"We have periodically had employees come up positive," said Healdsburg Hospital CEO, Jim Schuessler, but he added that 14 cases in a span of four weeks was unusual.

The day-long testing effort started at 4 a.m. Thursday morning, in an outdoor tent in the back parking lot of the hospital.

The testing will continue until 8 p.m. so that all workers on all shifts can be tested.

Schuessler said they hope to have test results on Friday to share with Sonoma County Public Health officials. Depending on the results, Schuessler said the hospital staff will "likely" have another round of testing late next week.

Schuessler said the hospital is currently treating one COVID-19 patient. The patient is in an isolated, pressurized room, with hospital staff required to "suit up" from head to toe in PPE when in the room.

He said it is unclear whether the staff members got sick from that patient, but that they do know that no patients at the hospital have gotten sick from any staff members.

As for how the other 14 staff members got sick, Schuessler said that "at least in one case, an employee acquired the infections from one of that employee’s close colleagues, who also tested positive."

"Our experience we're having right now is illustrative of just how dangerous this virus is and how very easy it is for anyone in our community to pick it up and get infected," said Schuessler.

Once hospital workers are tested for COVID-19, they are also fitted for N-95 masks. Prior to Thursday, Schuessler said only staff members working with COVID-19 patients had to wear N-95 masks. Now, with the recent outbreak, every employee who walks into the hospital must wear one.

Other health care facilities in Sonoma County are also facing COVID-19 challenges.

"We have been seeing an increase, gradually, in cases in our residential care facilities," said Dr. Sundari Mase, Sonoma County Public Health Officer, during a virtual meeting with Sonoma County supervisors and the public Wednesday night.

On Friday, Mase and other county leaders will meet with the Director of California's Social Services office, the state agency that regulates residential care facilities.

Of the recent outbreaks in health care facilities, Mase said: "Covid got into that setting somehow and it's going to largely be by an employee or staff member that didn't know they had Covid that came into the facility... it's actually a direct marker of community transmission."

Sonoma County remains in the purple tier for COVID-19 cases - the most restrictive tier under state guidelines.