Nursing staff in the post-anaesthesia care unit of Jorvi Hospital in Espoo, Southern Finland, on 27 January 2020. (Vesa Moilanen – Lehtikuva)

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TWO NURSES in the Hospital District of Helsinki and Uusimaa (HUS) have found it difficult to get tested for the new coronavirus despite being sent home for experiencing symptoms associated with the virus, reports YLE.

One of the nurses even had recently returned from one of the areas worst hit by the epidemic in Europe.

The Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) and the Finnish government have both repeatedly drawn attention to the importance of proactively testing health care staff for the virus, known officially as Covid-19.

YLE on Thursday said the names and exact workplaces of the nurses will not be disclosed due to the sensitive nature of the matter. It said it interviewed nearly two dozen employees assigned to different units and roles in the hospital district for its report, revealing that although not all of them subscribed to the claims about testing, many had heard of such problems.

Tarja Sironen, an associate professor of virology at the University of Helsinki, estimated to the public broadcasting company that the hospital district has adopted too strict guidelines for testing health care personnel.

HUS has ruled that health care personnel with respiratory symptoms will be tested for the coronavirus only if they have been abroad or in contact with a confirmed carrier in the past two weeks. The guidelines remain in place despite last week’s decision to limit testing on a smaller part of the population, such as the elderly and health care professionals.

Markku Mäkijärvi, the head medical director at HUS, told YLE that the hospital district is taking the testing of health care personnel seriously.

Around 400 confirmed cases in Finland

  • The Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) on Thursday reported that around 400 coronavirus infections have been confirmed in Finland.
  • The number represents an increase of roughly 40 from Wednesday.
  • THL has thus far provided updates on the total number of infections based on information obtained from hospital districts.
  • Going forward, its updates will be based on cases entered into the infectious diseases register.

“I’m personally under the impression that in the big picture we’re on the right track in terms of the health of staff and testing for coronavirus, but I’m sure there have been individual cases that didn’t go as well as we would’ve liked,” he admitted.

“We’ve ruled that in a situation where the testing capacity remains limited and will probably be so also in the near future, we should focus the limited capacity on collecting samples with a higher likelihood of the disease.”

Nurse had to wait a week for test, despite symptoms

An operating room nurse stated to the public broadcaster that they were not allowed to get tested for the virus until a week after they began to experience symptoms, such as cough and high fewer, during a work shift on Wednesday, 11 March.

The nurse was sent home and tested negative for influenza, but the symptoms started to worsen and remained similar to those reported in association with Covid-19: severe headaches, breathing difficulties and high fewer. They requested repeatedly that they be tested for the virus, but the requests were turned down.

YLE was provided with documents of the contacts but was unable to verify all details of the account.

The nurse made yet another request after a colleague told them about a possible change in the practices of HUS. They were tested for the virus, but the test results had yet to come out on Thursday.

“It seems like there’s panic. And HUS has realised that it may have a problem on its hands,” they said to YLE.

Mäkijärvi described the case as regrettable but reminded that such cases are possible regardless of whether the person with symptoms is part of the health care staff. “But of course we’re trying to arrange sample collection and testing sooner. Sometimes this happens. This is ultimately due to the testing capacity having been and being limited for the time being.”

HUS, he underlined, is instructing all staff members with a runny nose or soar throat to stay at home.

“You’re allowed to return [to work] after one symptom-free day, but a longer time period is the starting point for those returning from epidemic areas, if at all possible. Doctors of infectious diseases will carry out an assessment of the overall risk level,” said Mäkijärvi.

Nurse at New Children’s Hospital exposed 24 co-workers to coronavirus

HUS on Thursday reported that an employee has tested positive for the new coronavirus in the cancer and organ transplant ward of New Children’s Hospital in Helsinki. The infection was confirmed the day before yesterday and everyone exposed to it – two doctors and 22 nurses – have been identified and ordered into home quarantine.

The employee had not been at work since Friday, according to HUS.

“We are treating the situation very seriously. The objective of ordering staff into home quarantine is to break the infection chain. We are able to monitor the condition of children treated at the ward even more closely,” said Eero Jokinen, a chief physician at New Children’s Hospital.

Aleksi Teivainen – HT

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