Sydney’s health system is under “red alert” with visitors blocked from entering hospitals and aged care facilities as more than 500 healthcare staff have been placed in isolation after an unvaccinated student nurse tested positive to COVID-19.
On Tuesday, SummitCare aged care facility in Baulkham Hills confirmed 130 staff, including contracted cleaners, were identified as close contacts and are now in two-week isolation. They join more than 400 staff at Royal North Shore and Fairfield Hospitals who have also been forced to isolate.
Later that night, SummitCare confirmed a fourth worker at the facility has tested positive, with six residents and four aged care workers testing positive to date.
It comes as NSW Health confirmed customers have contracted COVID-19 at the Commonwealth Bank branch in Roselands, after a previous venue alert was issued for the location.
Anyone who attended the branch on June 28, 29 or 30 is considered a close contact and must get tested and isolate for 14 days, regardless of the result.
Also added to the close contact list was Parramatta Coles, Country Growers Parramatta, a construction site in Toongabbie, and St Mary & St Mina Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Bexley.
Travellers on T1 North Shore Line and T4 Eastern Suburbs and Illawarra Line from Parramatta Station to Bondi Junction Station on June 29 departing at 1pm, and the opposite direction departing at 7pm the same day, are casual contacts of a confirmed case and must get tested and isolate until a negative test is returned.
Restrictions for Sydney hospital visits
Visitors are restricted from entering about 50 hospitals in Greater Sydney including Wollongong and Shellharbour, the Central Coast and the Blue Mountains unless in exceptional circumstances. All visitors, including children, have been banned from visiting aged care facilities in the same areas and will require an exemption to visit.
A spokesperson for NSW Health said this decision “has not been made lightly.”
“As a priority, we must always ensure we are not putting our vulnerable patients and critical health services at risk of a COVID-19 exposure,” the spokesperson said.
“There are however local arrangements in place to allow visitors in very limited circumstances for caring and compassionate reasons such as supporting women in labour, providing care for children in hospital, and for palliative care.”
Under “red alert”, visitors are permitted only if they fulfil exemption criteria such as providing end of life care, fulfilling a carer’s role or seeking urgent medical treatment. There are no restrictions in the remainder of the state’s hospitals, but visitors are required to wear masks.
Last Tuesday NSW Health confirmed a 24-year-old unvaccinated student nurse worked at Fairfield Hospital’s rehabilitation ward and the cardiology and general abdominal surgery wards at Royal North Shore from June 24 to 28.
Health Services Union secretary Gerard Hayes said the shortage of staff at Royal North Shore and Fairfield hospitals will mean nurses at hospitals such as Liverpool could be asked to work 12-hour shifts to cover gaps.
“Liverpool Hospital will be thinned out, staff will need to do double shifts and there is no surge workforce to pull from to cover shortfalls. Nurses will be borrowed from one hospital to give to another. Many hospitals already have rosters with holes in them,” Mr Hayes said.
Five wards at Royal North Shore – renal, general medical, cardiology, neurology and surgical – are closed for admissions and to visitors.
NSW recorded 18 new cases in the 24 hours to 8pm Monday.
In addition to 130 staff in isolation, SummitCare also confirmed 20 senior managers are living on site and isolating as a precaution.
On Tuesday it was announced a sixth resident at the facility had tested positive. The resident was the wife of a known case at the north-west Sydney provider, and had already been transferred to Westmead Hospital as a precaution. She had received both doses of the Pfizer vaccine.
A spokesperson for SummitCare said no residents were showing symptoms of the virus at this stage.
The Department of Health administered vaccines to 24 residents in the facility on Tuesday, which continues to be in full lockdown with daily testing of residents and staff.
As Sydney’s COVID-19 outbreak continues to grow, Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant said there were six people in intensive care: one in their early 50s, one in their early 60s, three in their 70s and one in their 80s.
Two patients are on ventilators and some younger patients have been hospitalised.
“This is a salient reminder that COVID can have an impact on you and your loved ones,” Dr Chant said.
More than 32,000 tests were processed in the 24 hours to 8pm Monday, about half the number processed last Monday.
“I would like to see over 40,000 tests every day this week to give us the best assessment that we are not missing chains of transmission,” Dr Chant said, noting the focus of the outbreak was now in western Sydney.