Australia

Eleven residents in isolation after Sydney aged care worker diagnosed with coronavirus

Dorothy Henderson Lodge aged-care facility / NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard. Source: BaptistCare/AAP

Eleven residents of the BaptistCare Dorothy Henderson Lodge aged care facility in North Sydney have been placed in isolation after a long-term employee tested positive for COVID-19.

Eleven aged care home residents have been put in isolation in North Sydney after a staff member tested positive for coronavirus.

The woman, in her 50s, is the third confirmed person to have contracted the virus from the New South Wales community, leaving state health authorities questioning how she was infected. 

In a press conference on Wednesday, NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard said the woman had worked at the BaptistCare Dorothy Henderson Lodge aged care facility in North Sydney's Macquarie Park for more than two decades.

"This much-loved staff member had not travelled. She had not been overseas. She had not been to any of the hot spots around the world. So, that raises the question, how did she end up with coronavirus," Mr Hazzard said.

The aged care facility where a woman who has tested positive to coronavirus worked.
The aged care facility where a woman who has tested positive to coronavirus worked.
SBS News/Lucy Murray

Elderly people and those with pre-existing health conditions appear to be the most at risk of COVID-19, representing the vast majority of the 3,100 deaths worldwide. 

The infected staff member had worked with 13 residents, 11 of which have since been isolated and two that have presented with respiratory symptoms. 

One of these residents was a 95-year-old woman who recently died.

"Whether or not it was related to corona, we don't know at this point," Mr Hazzard said, adding that a second resident was undergoing testing.

Mr Hazzard compared the staff member's case to that of a doctor from Ryde Hospital who tested positive to the virus on Monday. The doctor had not travelled overseas recently or come into contact with any known coronavirus cases.

The staff member first developed symptoms around 24 February but was only formally diagnosed on Tuesday night. 

Chief medical officer Brendan Murphy said it was "very unfortunate" that she had attended work after noticing symptoms and urged people who were experiencing flu-like and respiratory symptoms to self-isolate.

Following the announcement, federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said the 95-year-old woman's death was "one for investigation" and praised the actions of BaptistCare and NSW Health.

"Across the country, there are real challenges. But what we are doing is making sure that we are prepared," he said.

Meanwhile, a BaptistCare spokesperson said they were working closely with NSW Health to ensure the safety of their residents and staff. 

Speaking at Senate Estimates earlier on Wednesday, Mr Murphy said the government was coordinating with the aged-care sector to prepare for a potential epidemic in Australia. 

"The aged care sector is one where we are doing a lot of planning," he said.

"I think there could be a lot of fear in the aged care sector if we don't discuss the potential risks sensitively."

On Wednesday morning, Victoria Health confirmed a 10th coronavirus case in the state after the number of infections in NSW jumped to 15 overnight. The total number of infections in Australia has now reached 41.

James Kwan, a 78-year-old passenger of the Diamond Princess cruise ship, became Australia's first casualty of the virus on Sunday after he died in isolation Perth's Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital. Mr Kwan's wife, 79, also tested positive for the virus and is currently undergoing treatment.

The number of confirmed COVID-19 infections across 72 countries has surpassed 92,000.

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