Kristin Murphy, KSL

Dozens of veterans, workers test positive for COVID-19 at state-owned nursing home

By Jed Boal, KSL TV | Posted - May 28, 2020 at 9:54 p.m.

SALT LAKE CITY – Over the past 10 days, 41 veteran residents and 17 employees have tested positive for COVID-19 at the William E. Christoffersen Salt Lake Veterans Home on the campus of the VA Salt Lake City Healthcare System.

That home is one of four state-owned veterans nursing homes.

The first patient tested positive May 18. Avalon Health Care, the company that runs the facility for the state, was trying to find out how the virus got inside despite their best efforts over 10 weeks to keep it out.

“At this time, we don’t know how COVID-19 entered the facility,” said Gary Harter, executive director of the Utah Department of Veterans and Military Affairs.

Since mid-March, all four of the state’s veterans nursing homes have been closed to everyone except essential employees.

They have been following strict CDC guidelines for long-term care facilities.

After the first resident tested positive on May 18, the Utah Department of Health and the Utah National Guard tested all residents and healthcare employees.

Five more residents and three staff tested positive.

“All COVID-19 positive residents were transferred to the VA Medical Center,” said Harter.

On Tuesday, Harter said more testing revealed that 41 residents out of 72 in the facility tested positive, yet 27 were asymptomatic.

Right now, 22 of those residents were being cared for at the VA. The other residents are being treated at the nursing home, essentially turning it into a COVID-care facility.

Avalon Health Care representatives told KSL none were seriously ill, while others were exhibiting symptoms of the virus.

Among the employees, 15 of the 17 who tested positive were asymptomatic.

“Avalon healthcare is working hard to understand how COVID got into the facility, and how it has spread,” said Harter. ”To the families, the care and health of your loved ones is our top priority.”

He said they’ve been doing everything they can to keep the facility COVID-free, even reaching out to other veterans homes to share ideas.

“This is an extremely challenging virus,” Harter said. ”We are determined to beat it.”

The three other state-owned veterans homes in Ogden, Payson and Ivins were still working to keep COVID-19 out. So far, they’ve been successful.

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