PORTLAND, Maine — Eight more caregivers at York Hospital have tested positive for the coronavirus, bringing the total number of cases there to 45 health care workers and 13 patients since the outbreak was initially reported on Dec. 6.

Another patient has also died, the hospital reported Wednesday, bringing the number of deaths to three since the outbreak began.

Staffing shortages have posed a challenge for the facility and hospitals across the U.S. as they struggle to control record-high case outbreaks of the coronavirus in recent weeks.

To fill staffing vacancies, the hospital hired 13 traveling health care workers on short-term contracts this month, and retrained more than 60 caregivers to step into new roles to deal with the outbreak, according to Matthew Bennett, the hospital’s director of patient quality and caregiver experiences. 

Several members of the hospital’s management team have stepped away from administrative duties to assist caregivers at bedsides, Bennett said.

COVID-positive caregivers are returning to their positions after a 10-day isolation period, according to Dr. Evangeline Thibodeau of the hospital’s infection control team.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended that hospitals coping with staffing shortages cancel elective procedures and retrain health care providers to work in areas of urgent need. The state waived certain licensing requirements for emergency clinicians earlier this month.

York Hospital has closed the dining area at its cafeteria and limited food services to takeout only. Elective surgeries that require overnight care were postponed indefinitely last week.

All caregivers who tested positive at York Hospital are associated with the hospital’s inpatient adult health care unit, spokesperson Jean Kolak said. No new patients have tested positive in the last week.

Dr. Jennifer Cutts, York Hospital’s chief medical officer and interim-CEO, said it was an “extremely challenging time” for the hospital and its caregivers.

“This outbreak has been the center of our focus since the moment it was discovered, and we continue to treat it incredibly seriously,” Cutts said.

As of Tuesday, the hospital had received 800 doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine, and were ready to administer doses for emergency use to staff who provide patient care in intensive care and inpatient adult health units.

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