EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — El Paso Children’s Hospital confirms one of their employees has tested positive for the COVID-19 virus. This comes as hospitals around El Paso begin implementing increased safety measures for their employees.

El Paso Children’s Hospital

Officials at El Paso Chidren’s Hospital confirm one of their employees who provides patient care tested positive for the COVID-19 virus Tuesday. According to the hospital, the employee traveled with a group of people to a low-risk area and returned to work while self-monitoring for symptoms of COVID-19.

On March 24, the employee was notified members of the group they were traveling with became symptomatic. As a result, the employee immediately self-isolated and self-monitored. The hospital tested the employee on Monday, City Department of Public Health notified the employee the test was positive on Tuesday.

EPCH says they’ve identified the employees close contacts and notified those involved. The hospital believes the case is considered a low-risk situation.

The positive employee COVID-19 result comes as the hospital begins implementing new protocols for employees and patients. As of Monday, everyone entering EPCH, including healthcare workers, peripheral employees and visitors are required to wear surgical masks.

University Medical Center

A report in the New York Times and on NPR’s Morning Edition Tuesday shed light on a troubling situation at University Medical Center focusing on local physician Henry Nikicicz, a 60-year-old anesthesiologist contracted by UMC. The report stated Dr. Nikicicz was suspended for insubordination for wearing a surgical mask outside of the operating room and in the halls of the hospital.

The NYT reports Nikicicz received a text from his boss, the Chief of Anesthesia that read: “UR WEARING IT DOWN A PUBLIC HALL. THERES NO MORE WUHAN VIRUS IN THE HALLS AT THE HOSPITAL THAN WALMART. MAYBE LESS.”

The ‘Wuhan Virus’ is a term used by President Donald Trump to identify the virus and its origin in Wuhan, China. The President has been criticized for using the term, some believe it is racist or encourages discrimination against Asian Americans. The nation’s top medical advisors call the virus COVID-19.

“University Medical Center of El Paso has confirmed with Somnia Anesthesia that an anesthesiologist, Henry Nikicicz, under contract with the company was removed from his rotation/work schedule for one day for insubordination. The anesthesiologist was told on numerous occasions by his supervisor to not wear the N95 surgical mask while not in the Operating Room area or while not treating patients with infectious disease. He was wearing the N95 in common areas, general hallways, etc.,” a statement from University Medical Center’s Public Affairs Director read.  

The statement went on to say CDC guidelines at the time of the incident did not require masks to be used by hospital staff when not treating patients. In the interview, Dr. Nikicicz said he suffers from asthma and is prone to upper respiratory infections. He stated he was wearing the mask as a precaution.

“Wearing the mask is one of the basic ways of stopping the spread of the virus. And the right thing to do is to wear a mask. To punish me for wearing the mask is something that I really feel is wrong,” Dr. Nikicicz said in the NPR interview.

UMC stated the issue with Dr. Nikicicz was a personnel matter between Somnia Anesthesia and its contracted anesthesiologist. Dr. Nikicicz is reportedly back in rotation at the hospital since being suspended.

According to the statement sent by UMC, they are “not unlike other hospitals in its efforts to conserve N95 surgical masks, especially while treating patients with infections disease.” UMC’s statement was released just hours before EPCH announced one of their employees tested positive for the virus and all staff and visitors are now expected to wear masks. The two hospitals are separate entities but share the same campus footprint and general services such as food service and laundry.

Las Palmas – Del Sol

Staff and medical providers at Las Palmas and Del Sol Medical Centers will now be required to wear masks according to a statement sent by the hospital Tuesday.

The announcement said that all staff working in patient care areas are not required to wear medical masks effective Tuesday. The protocol expands mask usage beyond patient areas with existing suspected or positive COVID-19 cases.

“Our top priority is protecting our patients, clinicians, nurses and colleagues so we can best serve El Paso and surrounding regions during this pandemic,” Ogechika Alozie, M.D., chief medical officer of Del Sol Medical Center, said in a statement. “With guidelines continuing to evolve and community spread increasing, this was the appropriate time to take this step. These new masking requirements apply to all areas of our patient care facilities, not just those where suspected or positive COVID-19 patients are being treated.”

HCA Healthcare, which is the parent company of the hospital, says their facilities currently have adequate supplies of personal protective equipment (PPE), but are continuing to conserve PPE equipment including reuse and reprocessing of PPE where appropriate.

The hospitals are using three different types of masks, depending on the clinical role, type of care the patient is receiving, and the level of suspicion for infection of the COVID-19 virus.