Photo by Jessie Stensland / Whidbey News-Times
                                Careage of Whidbey, a skilled nursing facility in Coupeville, is the site of a cluster of COVID-19 cases.

Photo by Jessie Stensland / Whidbey News-Times Careage of Whidbey, a skilled nursing facility in Coupeville, is the site of a cluster of COVID-19 cases.

32 test positive for COVID-19 at Careage

A total of 32 residents and staff members at the Careage of Whidbey in Coupeville have tested positive for COVID-19, according to Island County Public Health.

The highly contagious virus spread quickly through the rehabilitation and skilled nursing facility despite prompt testing and isolation of residents who tested positive, Island County Public Health Director Keith Higman said.

“I think they did the right thing early on,” he said of the Careage staff, explaining that people living in such facilities are susceptible to contracting the coronavirus because they tend to have weakened immune systems.

Life Care Center in Kirkland and several other Seattle-area nursing homes have been hit hard by the virus and have been the focus of national media. At least 37 deaths were linked to the coronavirus outbreak at Life Care Center alone.

One death in Island County was caused by COVID-19 and a total of 80 positive tests have been reported to the county.

Sean O’Neill, executive director of Careage, said the facility’s 49 residents and 100 staff members have all been tested and results are back on all but a few.

Immediate testing identified people who had the virus and didn’t yet have symptoms, allowing the facility to quarantine them before they passed it on.

“Because we tested so quickly, we know the scope of the situation,” he said, “and have been able to isolate people early on.”

O’Neill said Careage officials have maintained close contact with residents’ families, WhidbeyHealth Medical Center, Island County Public Health and other agencies.

O’Neill explained that Careage offers rehabilitation services for people who are recovering from surgery, an infection or a similar issue. In addition, the facility offers long-term nursing care for residents with special medical needs.

Careage also runs a childcare facility. O’Neill said the childcare was closed March 13, and no children displayed symptoms.

He said parents were informed immediately after the positive tests from the nursing home were received.

Higman said Careage contacted Public Health after learning of the positive tests, which were just two to begin with.

The source of the virus has not been identified.

Higman said it may have come from a visitor, a staff member or a resident who underwent a medical procedure at another facility.

Higman explained that Public Health’s role during an outbreak is to identify what it might mean for the rest of the population.

It often involves detective work.

Higman’s staff is busy identifying and notifying people who may have come in contact with those who had contact with Careage, he said.

One of the first steps was to obtain visitor and travel logs. Public Health and Careage recently agreed to a memorandum of understanding that authorizes access to records.

O’Neill said residents who tested positive are in quarantine and are being cared for by staff.

“We’re just taking it one day at a time,” he said.

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