Vancouver hospital believes COVID-19 outbreak originated with patient who initially tested negative

By Amelia Templeton (OPB)
Jan. 5, 2021 1:08 a.m. Updated: Jan. 5, 2021 1:16 a.m.

A cluster of COVID-19 cases has sickened 19 patients and 11 healthcare workers at PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center in Vancouver.

An additional 59 health care workers are in quarantine as a precaution. The hospital has reported no new cases in the past two days.


The patients were all in one of the hospital’s general medical-surgical units, which treats people recovering from strokes, heart attacks and other conditions. They had tested negative for COVID-19 upon admission to the hospital.

PeaceHealth had initially reported that 30 patients were part of the cluster. Now, the hospital says some of the patients it reported had tested positive appear to be isolated cases not linked to the others.

PeaceHealth believes the cluster traces back to a single case: a patient who tested negative when first admitted.

“We believe the patient was likely infected in the community, came into the hospital, and manifested COVID-19 only after hospitalization,” said Dr. Lawrence Neville, the chief medical officer for PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center.


Epidemiologists have yet to determine how the virus spread from that initial patient to so many others in spite of infection control protocols, which include testing patients at admission to the hospital, asking patients to mask, as well as temperature checks and full personal protective equipment for staff. According to Neville, some patients affected by the outbreak had private rooms, while others were in shared rooms.

All patients have now been moved out of the affected unit and it has been closed since Friday for deep cleaning. In response to the outbreak, the hospital is adding UV light disinfection to the cleaning protocol for the affected medical-surgical unit and will give staff on the unit the option to be tested regularly.

Neville said there were no evident lapses in personal protective gear protocols or problems with the air filtration system in the unit, and that the first patient identified as part of the cluster was wearing a mask during their hospital stay.

The hospital sent viral samples for genomic testing Monday, to determine if a specific variant of COVID-19 caused the cluster.

A new variant of COVID-19 that originated in the United Kingdom and seems to spread more quickly and easily has been found recently in California, Colorado, Florida and New York.

The outbreak illustrates the impact of community spread of the virus, and the importance of taking precautions like masking, physical distancing and handwashing, according to Neville.

“The fact that this cluster could happen at PeaceHealth Southwest, a very very safe hospital, really shows that this is a highly prevalent virus in our community,” Neville said.

“The fact that it did occur here unfortunately means that the chances of it entering our homes, our places of work and other hospitals is unfortunately higher.”

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