While King County’s new online coronavirus dashboard shows 15 individuals in the 98022 ZIP code have tested positive for the virus, it does not show where these cases have originated, nor where people are being treated.
But after a week of vague social media posts and anonymous emails, The Courier-Herald was able to confirm many of these cases may have stemmed from Enumclaw Health and Rehab, and that several patients are currently being quarantined there or at St. Elizabeth Hospital. The local QFC was also confirmed to have a positive case.
Enumclaw Health and Rehab offers various short- and long-term care options for its patients, and many fall under the “at-risk” category for experiencing serious symptoms of the spreading coronavirus.
Based on social media posts and conversations with workers, clients and client family members, it was suspected between one and three clients had tested positive for COVID-19.
“I got a call from the nursing home staff Friday (March 20), that there were three patients that were exhibiting symptoms,” said Abaham Ritter, whose mother is a client. “They had transported the patients to St. Elizabeth Hospital. (On March 23), I got a call that the tests had come back positive, and that one of the patients — I only heard of one, I can’t remember if it was more than that — that one person continues to be at St. Elizabeth.”
Another client’s family member said their parent had come down with a “mild case” of the coronavirus, and was being treated at Enumclaw Rehab.
It appears some of this information may not have reached some clients — one said he specifically asked nursing staff on March 22 about whether any of his peers had tested positive and he was told no.
As it turns out, more than a dozen cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed by EmpRes Health Care, Enumclaw Rehab’s parent company, in a March 26 statement.
According to EmpRes, their facility’s use of multi-daily temperature checks for its clients caught four residents exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms two weeks ago. They were transported to St. Elizabeth Hospital, although it’s unclear if they’re still being treated at that location.
Since then, another six residents and two staff members have tested positive, and “these six residents are being cared for under isolation precautions consistent with the recommendations of state and federal health authorities.”
“This is a difficult time for everyone,” EmpRes continued. “Please rest assured that resident safety is our top priority. Our focus is to prevent the spread of COVID-19 within our facility. We are in close communication with local and state health officials to ensure that we continue taking the appropriate preventative measures.”
Ritter, who came to visit his mother by standing outside her room, separated by a window, said he’s been impressed with Enumclaw Rehab’s current leadership, especially during this pandemic.
“I’ve had concerns with the level of care this facility has provided over time. They have a temporary administrator now that I’ve been very impressed with the work that she’s been doing — the communication to the families, at least to me, has been excellent,” he said, referring to Executive Director Jennifer Stout. “I’ve probably been this place’s biggest critic over the years — my mother has been here since 2004 — but at least since the new temporary administrator has been here… she’s been doing an excellent job.”
EmpRes said it is continuing to work closely with state and federal healthcare authorities, and have “robust protocols to greatly limit the risk of exposure of COVID-19 to those in our facility.”
ST. ELIZABETH HOSPITAL
Although four COVID-19 cases are currently being treated at CHI Franciscan’s St. Elizabeth Hospital, it’s unknown whether there are any additional cases. Conversations with employees appeared to reveal that healthcare workers at the facility are being instructed to not share any information about COVID-19 cases at the facility, if they’re told there are any cases being treated at all.
At least three times in March, The Courier-Herald reached out to CHI to confirm whether there were any coronavirus patients at the local hospital, and was referred to the King County health department.
However, the health department stated multiple times, including in a March 24 email, that it does not report on individual hospital cases “because we don’t always have accurate data,” and that CHI was the “proper contact to address [the] question.”
As of Monday, March 30, CHI declined to confirm how many COVID-19 patients are at St. Elizabeth, and did not state a reason for doing so.
“As of Thursday (March 26), CHI Franciscan is reporting 35 confirmed and 55 suspected COVID patients across the system,” CHI’s Director of Communications and Government Affairs wrote in an email. “This is a public health crisis and federal, state, and county public health authorities are tracking and sharing information about COVID-19 infections at a geographic level that is in the interest of public health and safety. CHI Franciscan is following all public health guidelines. We are sharing additional information on a regular basis about how CHI Franciscan is responding to this outbreak.”
Some employees have indicated between three and five COVID-19 patients were being treated as of last week, and that the entire third floor of St. Elizabeth has been reconfigured to handle strict quarantine procedures.
The Courier-Herald received an email from an anonymous individual last week, stating the Monroe Avenue grocery store had an employee who tested positive for COVID-19.
QFC’s Corporate Affairs Manager Tiffany Sanders confirmed the email, saying the employee is “receiving medical care,” and added: “Upon learning of the case, we worked closely with state and local health experts, followed all sanitation and cleaning procedures, communicated with and supported our store team, and with the support of the state government, the store remains open.”
Sanders declined to answer when the employee tested positive for the virus and which department the employee worked in, so it’s unclear how many people were exposed.
But over the last week, the store implemented many policies to decrease the risk of exposure for both employees and customers, including placing clearly-marked signs on the floor that adhere to social distancing recommendations, installing disinfecting wipes at the store’s entrances, and disinfecting all carts, in addition to already having reduced store hours for additional cleaning and restocking and having a “safe shopping” hour for at-risk customers.
QFC also plans to install plexiglass partitions at cash registers, Sanders said.
What QFC does not appear to have, though, is personal protective equipment (PPE) for employees; the anonymous email alleged employees have to supply their own gloves and masks.
Sanders declined to answer whether that was accurate, but did state: “We are advocating to government officials at all levels for help securing a priority place in line for all grocery workers — after health care workers — to have access to protective masks and gloves.”
Employees at Safeway, Enumclaw’s other local grocery store, have said that store has been supplying PPE to employees upon request.