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Dozens of residents inside veteran nursing home test positive for COVID-19

(Gary Harter speaking at a briefing at the Utah State Capitol on May 28, 2020. Credit: Trent Nelson via Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY – A veteran nursing facility is Salt Lake is at the center of another COVID-19 outbreak and medical professionals are trying to find out how it started. 

This outbreak started May 18th when one resident of the William E. Christofferson Veterans Home showed symptoms of the disease.  After he tested positive for the coronavirus, all other people inside the center were tested and officials found five other residents, plus three staffers had the virus.  Those residents were moved to the George E. Wahlen Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

Since then, there was another round of testing was performed this week and state officials were shocked at the results.  Department of Veterans and Military Affairs Executive Director Gary Harter says 41 residents had the virus, along with 17 staffers.

Harter says, “Those initial residents that tested positive on the second round of testing remain in their rooms at the facility.”

Inspectors are still not sure how this outbreak started.  Harter says they haven’t allowed visitors in the facility since mid-March, and he claims they have followed all of the health and safety guidelines recommended by the federal government.

“At this time, we do not know how COVID-19 entered the facility,” He says.

Harter believes this shows how insidious the virus is, especially among people who have no idea they have it.

Harter says, “In fact, at the time of testing, including both rounds of testing, 25 residents and 15 employees were asymptomatic.”

The department partners with Avalon Health Care to oversee four nursing homes dedicated to treating veterans, and, so far, only the facility in Salt Lake City has seen this kind of viral spread.

“We’re certainly testing all the rest of our facilities as part of Utah’s plan to test all long-term care facilities,” Harter says.