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Spokane Veterans Home resident dies from COVID-19; employee who tested positive cared for 2 resident cases

UPDATED: Wed., April 8, 2020

A resident of the Spokane Veterans Home who was on end-of-life care before contracting coronavirus died from COVID-19 Wednesday, according to the Washington State Department of Veterans Affairs.

The person was one of two residents who tested positive for the virus Tuesday. The residents were roommates and isolated when they began experiencing symptoms.

Both received carefrom a facility employee who was awaiting COVID-19 test results last week, according to Heidi Audette, a state veterans affairs spokesperson.

The employee, following state and local guidelines, had gone three days without symptoms, then worked shifts on March 27 and March 30, the day the employee learned of their positive result. But the facility did not require the employee to wear a face mask as public health officials have advised.

Audette said the employee’s contact with the two residents did not meet the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention definition of close contact – remaining within 6 feet of someone for more than 10 minutes. And last week she said all contact with the facility’s then-86 residents was “minimal.”

“We do not know for certain whether this employee or another asymptomatic carrier could have introduced the virus,” Audette wrote in an email. “Our focus is on taking the best course of action moving forward and making sure we do everything we can to prevent the virus from spreading.”

The veteran affairs department did not release demographic information about the deceased other than the fact the person had underlying conditions and was in end-of-life care for “some time.”

“We are always saddened by the loss of one of our honored Spokane Veterans Home residents and this is no exception,” the department said in a statement. “Each Veteran served our nation honorably, and we take very seriously the business of caring for them when they need us the most.”

The other resident with COVID-19 remained in the 100-bed facility with symptoms that have decreased in severity since testing positive on Monday, according to the veteran affairs department.

The facility was not awaiting test results for any residents or staff on Wednesday. Eleven residents and seven staff have tested negative.

Staff members continue to check residents for symptoms every four hours while wearing masks and gloves. The facility also stopped admitting new residents last month.

The Spokane Veterans Home will work with the Spokane Regional Health District to ensure proper infection control procedures are in place. And the health district will also determine if more residents require COVID-19 testing.

Kelli Hawkins, a health district public information officer, said only people with symptoms will be tested for COVID-19. She said the health district, which has a special task force for elder care facilities, will ensure the veterans home has properly isolated people who came into contact with the residents or staff cases.

“Any time we’re dealing with a population that is high risk, we’re going to be concerned about an outbreak,” Hawkins said. “So we’re going to do extra diligence.”

COVID-19 had as of last week contributed to the deaths of 37 residents at Life Care Center of Kirkland, a King County nursing home that faces about $600,000 in fines for its response to the outbreak. At that point, the Associated Press tallied at least 450 deaths and nearly 2,300 COVID-19 cases related to nursing homes and long-term care facilities nationwide.

As of Wednesday morning, no residents or staff at other Washington State Department of Veterans Affairs nursing homes had tested positive for COVID-19. Those locations include facilities in Port Orchard, Orting and Walla Walla.

“I want to say how incredibly grateful I am to the staff at the Spokane Veterans Home, who are coming to work each day to serve our veterans and their families,” said Patrick McNabb, administrator of the Spokane Veterans Home, in a statement. “They are truly a remarkable force and are doing an outstanding job of serving those who served under the most complex circumstances we have encountered.”

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