Coronavirus arrives in Lebanon

Residents of Oregon Veterans Home test positive for illness

By Scott Swanson
Lebanon Local
After two presumptive cases of COVID-19 were detected at the Oregon Veterans Home in Lebanon, the Oregon Health Authority announced six more positive tests late Thursday.
All but one of the cases involve men over the age of 75, according to the OHA. The Linn County cases bring Oregon’s total to 30 cases in eight counties, as of Thursday evening.
Like the cases in Polk, Marion and Deschutes, the two Linn County cases had no known close contacts with confirmed cases, so they are considered community-spread, the OHA said.
The first two cases were confirmed about 3 p.m. Wednesday afternoon and were announced by the OHA at 7:04 p.m.
That night, an Infection Control and Specimen Collection Strike Team from OHA deployed to the Veterans’ Home to help support existing and additional infection control practices and help collect specimens. Samples from the suspected cases were brought to the Oregon State Public Health Laboratory early this morning, and test results were released late Thursday afternoon.
Oregon Department of Veterans’ Affairs Director Kelly Fitzpatrick told reporters in a conference call after the announcement that once the tests of the two veterans came back positive, they were isolated in individual rooms and are being cared for by staff who have had no contact with other personnel in the facility, following infectious disease prevention protocols.
The OHA said residents with symptoms were initially tested for flu, and respiratory illness and, as an extra precaution, that facility had previously switched its ventilation system to circulating 100 percent outside air to mitigate the potential spread of infectious disease.
Fitzpatrick said “several” OVH residents showed “symptoms” late Sunday, March 8, and were tested for influenza and RSV, a virus that causes cold-like symptoms. When those tests came back negative for the two veterans, they were tested for COVID-19.
Meanwhile, she said, staff continued to care for sick residents in isolation.
She said visiting hours were cut back and residents and their families were encouraged to communicate via Skype or other means.
Dr. Bill Muth, an infectious disease and internal medicine physician who is the Linn County Health Department’s Health Officer, said that, after watching the virus pop up in other areas of the Willamette Valley, “I was not entirely surprised that cases were discovered in the Oregon Veterans Home. The Covid-19 pandemic is upon us.”
He said a call center has been activated through Linn County Public Health “for residents who need information and counsel with respect to COVID-19.”
“We intend to cooperate with OHA and our clinical partners to contain this outbreak,” Muth said.
Fitzpatrick said the home, which opened in 2014, has 151 residents, “the great majority veterans over age of 70,” as well as a number of veterans’ spouses. It is one of two in Oregon; the other, in The Dalles, has no presumptive cases, she said.
She said 43 of the Lebanon home’s residents range in age from 80 to 89 and 37 are 90 or older.
The Veterans Home meets all state and federal guidelines and has been recognized as adhering to the “highest industry standards.”
Muth said the Veterans Home’s medical director is “conscientious,” which helped in the discovery of the virus.
Patrick Allen, OHA director, called the appearance of the virus at OVH “troubling,” but noted that is why his agency has teamed up with the Department of Human Services to prepare for an outbreak.
“We know it will spread,” he said. “We know we will see more cases.”
He said his agency will pursue “effective, fact-based actions” to battle the spread of the virus and protect older adults and people who face barriers to getting effective medical treatment.
Fitzpatrick said the Veterans Home has instituted “new, heightened safety measures” including suspension of all outside visitation and admissions.
“We understand how important it is for families to communicate with their loved ones at this time, but the safety of residents and staff is our highest priority,” she said.
“Our deepest concerns are with our now eight veteran residents who have tested positive for COVID-19,” Fitzpatrick said.
“Our hearts go out to everyone who has been affected by this rapidly evolving pandemic, but we can’t help but feel special concern for what is happening at our Veterans’ Home. These residents are our nation’s heroes. They protected our freedoms and way of life that we now enjoy. It is nothing less than our sacred duty to now fight for them. We will continue to do everything in our power to protect our residents and staff, and mitigate the spread of this virus within our facility.”