Previous positive tests revealed at Cairns Hospital lab


Queensland Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young has urged Cairns residents who experience any COVID-19 symptoms to get checked after a small cluster of cases have emerged among staff at the Cairns Hospital.

Dr Young confirmed a Brisbane technician who visited the Cairns Hospital pathology lab a month ago had tested positive.

“Initially, contact tracing was done in the lab which didn’t confirm anything. Then last week we had one of the lab workers test positive and we were unsure where that lab worker actually contracted the infection,” she said.

- Cairns pathology lab in quarantine after staff member tests positive

“We now have confirmation that it was in the lab because overnight I received the serology results for three other people who had been in that lab who had been infected, had the infection, and have recovered.

“But it’s clear that they got it from the initial person and therefore this latest person got it through that process,” she said.

The new serology testing, which began in Queensland on Monday, tests whether someone has previously had the infection, mounted an antibody response, and has recovered.

“It’s very important across the whole community in Cairns that anyone who’s unwell with any respiratory symptoms -  a cough, sore throat or shortness of breath - that you immediately go and see your own GP or go to the fever clinics in Cairns to be tested,” she said.

The testing criteria for Cairns had already been extended two weeks ago to include anybody presenting symptoms even if they did not know where they may have picked them up rather than just those who in the last 14 days had had contact with a confirmed case or had been overseas.

However, as the Douglas Shire is separate, it is not included in the testing criteria expansion which encompasses Palm Cove, Mareeba, and Gordonvale, and the previous testing eligibly criteria remains in place.

“We are now doing further work to make sure that there are no other unwell staff members or patients in the Cairns Hospital," Dr Young said.

“As a further precaution, Cairns Hospital is starting to screen all staff working from today to determine if there has been wider transmission. If anyone says they have symptoms or have had symptoms since 19 March, they will be referred to the fever clinic for testing. Contact tracing is also continuing.

“It’s important to understand that there is a low risk of further transmission but we need to make every effort possible to ensure this disease does not spread further.

“We haven’t seen a lot of cases in Cairns, I would suspect if there was a widespread problem that we would have seen a lot more cases,” she said.

Queensland Health guidelines state that a person will generally be tested if they have a fever (or history of fever) or acute respiratory symptoms, and, in the last 14 days:

  • they were a close contact or a household contact of a confirmed case
  • they had been overseas, including on a cruise.

Testing may also be done for people who have a fever (or history of fever) or acute respiratory symptoms, AND:

  • work in vulnerable settings such as healthcare, aged or residential care, police, military, a school or child care, correction facilities, detention centres and boarding schools.
  • live in:
    • Brisbane (residents within the Metro-North and Metro South Hospital and Health Services boundaries (PDF))
    • Gold Coast or
    • Cairns (the area bounded by and including Palm Cove to the north, Mareeba to the west, and Gordonvale to the south)
  • live in or travelled from a COVID-19 hotspot
  • live in or travelled from another state
  • live in a First Nations community.

If you are unwell and haven’t been overseas or in contact with a confirmed case, you may not be tested for coronavirus (COVID-19). Your doctor will make this assessment based on your symptoms and things like where you live or work.

If you are unwell and you meet the above criteria, you should contact a doctor immediately. Before your appointment, please call ahead and tell them about your symptoms and recent travel so they can prepare for your visit.

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