20 residents of Utah-run veterans home test positive for coronavirus

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) William E. Christoffersen Salt Lake Veterans Home on Football Drive, Wednesday, May 27, 2020.

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Twenty residents and four employees of a nursing home for veterans in Salt Lake City have tested positive for the coronavirus, according to the Utah Department of Veterans and Military Affairs.

As of Wednesday morning, there have been no fatalities, said department spokeswoman Kelsey Price. The William E. Christoffersen Salt Lake Veterans Home is owned by the state and sits on the southeast corner of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs campus on Foothill Drive.

Price said the positive residents have been moved out of the nursing home and into the veterans hospital on the other side of the campus.

“It’s a mix of World War II, Korea and Vietnam veterans," Price said of the nursing home residents. "So the vast majority are well over 65.”

Jill Atwood, a spokeswoman for the VA Rocky Mountain Network, said the Christoffersen home residents are staying in negative-pressure rooms created for a COVID-19 surge.

“These are separate isolated wards,” Atwood wrote in an email. “Our staff caring for the patients are using the proper protective equipment to ensure their safety.”

To also reduce the spread, the medical center is conducting temperature screenings at the gate, requiring face coverings and limiting patient visits.

Long-term care centers have been hot spots in Utah’s coronavirus pandemic. As of Wednesday afternoon, the Utah Department of Health said 44 of Utah’s 105 coronavirus deaths were attributed to such facilities.

The virus moves quickly once it’s introduced into close quarters. Older people can be especially susceptible due to weakened immune systems and are at a higher risk of complications for the same reason — and if they have underlying health conditions.

The Christoffersen home, named for World War II Army soldier Bill Christoffersen who went on to be a veterans advocate in Utah and serve on the national executive committee of the American Legion, has 81 beds. It is operated by a contractor, Avalon Health Care Group.

In an update on its website, Avalon said it has been working with the state and the Salt Lake County Health Department to provide testing and contain the spread. Price said the first positive result arrived May 18 on a resident who was showing symptoms.

Some employees, who were not showing symptoms, then tested positive, too.

Price said news of that first positive result arrived to the Utah Department of Veterans and Military Affairs between 3 and 4 a.m. on May 18. By 6:30 a.m., Price was on a conference call discussing the issue.

By 9 a.m., the Utah Department of Health and the Utah National Guard, which has been helping the state perform testing in long-term care centers, was at the Christoffersen home.

“Our department is taking this very seriously," Price said.

The state also has veterans nursing homes in Ogden, Payson and Ivins. They, too, are operated by Avalon. Price said there are no coronavirus cases at those facilities.