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Official: Caregiver had no symptoms for 3 days before returning to Spokane Veterans Home

UPDATED: Thu., April 2, 2020

A health care worker who has tested positive for COVID-19 had no symptoms for three days before returning to work at the Spokane Veterans Home last week, a state official said.

In an email, Heidi Audette, a spokeswoman for the Washington Department of Veterans Affairs, said the employee “had minimal direct contact with residents” while working Friday and Monday, when the positive test result came back.

The department runs the Spokane Veterans Home, a 100-bed nursing facility at 222 E. Fifth Ave.

Audette declined to give the gender or age of the infected employee, who is now self-quarantined at home. She said the employee developed symptoms of COVID-19 on March 20 and got tested on March 23, “the last day symptoms were present.”

Audette said the employee was allowed to return to work in accordance with guidelines from the state Department of Health, which are based on guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“The facility focused on their knowledge that the individual had no known exposure to an individual who had tested positive, symptoms had been resolved for 72 hours, and seven days had passed since symptoms first appeared,” Audette said.

Those same guidelines say a health care worker who returns to work after a COVID-19 diagnosis should wear a face mask “at all times while in the health care facility, if there is a sufficient supply of face masks, until all symptoms are completely resolved or until 14 days after illness onset, whichever is longer.”

Audette said the Spokane Veterans Home employee was not required to wear a face mask Friday and Monday. Starting Tuesday, however, all staff members must wear masks for 14 days when tending to residents.

The facility is taking other precautions. Audette said residents are being checked for fevers and other symptoms every four hours, and staff members are expected to check their own temperatures twice a day. Staff members also are screened for symptoms at the start of each shift.

Under a new department policy, sickened employees will need to have a negative COVID-19 test result, a doctor’s note or approval from local health officials to return to work.

On March 24, the Washington Department of Veterans Affairs sent a letter to residents’ families detailing how many residents and staff members had been tested at its veterans homes in Spokane, Port Orchard, Orting and Walla Walla.

The letter said six residents and two staff members at the Spokane Veterans Home had been tested. At the time, no tests had come back positive.

Mary Rorie said she worries about the health of her 94-year-old father, Willie Rorie, a Navy veteran who has lived at the Spokane Veterans Home for nearly a year.

Mary Rorie expressed frustration that the infected employee was allowed to return to work, but she applauded the facility’s caregivers, who have arranged for her to speak with her father by video chat almost daily for about two weeks, since Gov. Jay Inslee barred in-person visits at residential care centers.

“They go out of their way to accommodate me with FaceTime,” she said. “For a year solid, they’ve been great. They’ve taken care of my dad in a great way.”

The Washington Department of Veterans Affairs is separate from the federal agency of the same name, which runs the Mann-Grandstaff VA Medical Center in northwest Spokane.

An outbreak of COVID-19 at a nursing home could be disastrous, as seniors are more likely to die from the disease. Since late February, more than 80 residents have been infected and 35 have died at the Life Care Center in Kirkland, Washington.

Editor’s note: This story was changed on April 2, 2020, to note how many residents and staff members at the Spokane Veterans home had been tested for COVID-19 as of March 24. A previous version misstated when residents’ families were first notified about testing.

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