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Medical workers at Midori Municipal Hospital in Nagoya, where a COVID-19 cluster was confirmed in August, had been working with a constant fear of being infected given their suspicions over the hospital’s anti-virus measures, multiple sources familiar with the matter have told the Chunichi Shimbun.

With 24 patients and 15 nurses and nursing aides testing positive between Aug. 4 and Aug. 29, the hospital in Nagoya was designated as the first hospital in the city with a cluster. One of the infected died.

The sources claim the measures taken by the hospital to prevent the spread of infections, including zoning to separate the area with infected people from other areas, have been insufficient, and the workers were not given enough information or explanation about the measures.

The hospital, with 205 beds and some 300 staff members, gathered infected inpatients in one area of the building and placed a plastic sheet in the hallway as a boundary between the area and the safe zone.

But there were spaces above and below the plastic sheet, and part of the tape used to attach the sheet to the wall was coming off, according to the source. The hallway is also located close to the staff room.

“Air kept blowing in from the other side of the plastic sheet set up as a partition. Can we call this a measure to counter the virus?” said one of the sources, describing how the zoning was conducted in the hospital when infections were confirmed in mid-August.

A photo supplied by a source shows that a space is seen between a ceiling and a plastic sheet placed in a hallway at Midori Municipal Hospital in Nagoya as a measure to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Tape used to attach the sheet to the wall is seen partially coming off. | CHUNICHI SHIMBUN
A photo supplied by a source shows that a space is seen between a ceiling and a plastic sheet placed in a hallway at Midori Municipal Hospital in Nagoya as a measure to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Tape used to attach the sheet to the wall is seen partially coming off. | CHUNICHI SHIMBUN

The space below the sheet was closed up later, but the tape that partly came off was left as it was, according to the source.

“The sheet was placed to distinguish the area from other areas. It shouldn’t be a problem since (COVID-19) is not airborne,” said a Nagoya Municipal Government official in charge of hospitals. But such an explanation had not been given to workers at the hospital, the source said, adding that it “looked dangerous.”

The hospital instructed staff who attend to inpatients to refrain from using the hospital’s cafeteria, but there were cases in which such staff used the cafeteria along with those in charge of outpatients.

“All staff share not only the cafeteria but also the same locker room as well. How can we stay safe?” another source said.

According to the hospital, the area including rooms with suspected COVID-19 cases was labeled the “red zone,” and the area including staff rooms was designated as the “green zone.” A buffer zone called the “yellow zone” was created between the two zones.

Staff who worked in the red zone wearing protective gear were supposed to take it off in the yellow zone before moving into the green zone.

But the sources said that on one of the floors, the hallway and the nurses’ room designated as a green zone are located directly in front of a patients’ room labeled as a red zone. Some staff members walked in and out of the green zone with their protective gear on, they said.

“Although the method of zoning is not legally defined, we have been doing the best we can do,” a hospital official said. “I don’t think there is a case in which a hallway in front of a patients’ room is designated as the green zone.”

According to the municipal government, the hospital conducted antigen tests and polymerase chain reaction tests in early August and mid-August on a total of 540 staff and inpatients. But hospital staff were never informed of the results, and even those who tested positive weren’t given the results immediately in some cases, the sources said.

Hospital staff always learned of the infections through media reports, the sources said.

The hospital explained that personal information of those infected are disclosed only to a limited number of staff.

To prevent COVID-19 infections, the hospital has been banning visits by patients’ families and suspending treatment of outpatients and acceptance of new inpatients.

But it had announced on Sept. 4 that it would resume treatment of outpatients on Monday of this week, since no new cases of infections have been confirmed in the hospital after Aug. 29.

The hospital “pays little attention to the lives of patients and hospital staff facing high risk of COVID-19 infections. I wonder if it is alright to accept (outpatients) again under such a situation,” one of the sources said.

Shinya Yoshida, head of the hospital’s administration department, said, “Although we are not a hospital specializing in infectious diseases, we have invited a nurse well-versed in infectious disease prevention measures and consulted the city’s public health center to take as many anti-virus steps as possible.

“Since a number of people got infected in the hospital, we have to take measures to prevent a recurrence in the future,” Yoshida said. “We will improve our measures by receiving guidance from the city and the public health center.”

This section features topics and issues from the Chubu region covered by the Chunichi Shimbun. The original article was published on Sept. 6.

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