9 dead at Utah veterans home; another 295 coronavirus cases found statewide

(Stephen Holt | Courtesy of the American Legion) William Christoffersen, a World War II veteran who served in the American Legion for 75 years, is shown here in 2013 at the renaming of the Salt Lake Veterans Home, in his honor. Christoffersen, who represented Utah on the Legion's national board for nearly 50 years, died in that home Sunday, May 31, 2020, at 93, from complications from COVID-19.

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The contractor who operates a veterans nursing home in Salt Lake City says nine people have died there as Utah’s coronavirus death toll reached 143 on Monday.

The William E. Christoffersen Salt Lake Veterans Home became a hot spot in the state’s coronavirus pandemic weeks ago when 51 residents tested positive.

The nine fatalities — the equivalent of losing an Army squad — includes the home’s namesake, William Christoffersen. He enlisted in the Army and served in the Pacific during World War II. He returned home to Utah and became an advocate for veterans. Christoffersen died May 31 from COVID-19 at age 93.

(Photo courtesy Sumbot family) Robert Anthony Sumbot, seen here in this undated photo, died June 6, 2020, after contracting COVID-19 at the  William E. Christoffersen Salt Lake Veterans Home. Sumbot, who served in the Marine Corps during the Korean War, was 90.

A few other names have appeared in obituaries. Robert Anthony Sumbot served in the Marine Corps during the Korean War and then taught history at Midvale Middle School for years. Sumbot died June 6 at age 90.

“It was kind of a shame that we couldn’t even say goodbye to him,” his son Bob Sumbot said Monday.

Staffers at the 81-bed Christoffersen home banned visitors in March. After contracting the virus at the home anyway, the elder Sumbot was transferred to City Creek Post Acute in Salt Lake City, which has been converted into a care center for long-term care facility residents with COVID-19.

Bob Sumbot said his dad had a fever and was weak. He rose from bed, fell, hit his head and died hours later. The son said he is still waiting to see the death certificate but assumes COVID-19 will be listed as at least a factor in his father’s death.

The Utah Department of Health, meanwhile, reported Monday that four more Utahns have died from COVID-19 and another 295 people have come down with the virus.

The four fatalities bring the state’s death tole from COVID-19 to 143 people. The latest deaths are:

• A Salt Lake County man, between ages 60 and 85, who was the resident of a long-term care facility.

• A San Juan County man, between ages 18 and 60, who was in the hospital when he died.

• A Washington County man, between ages 18 and 60, who was hospitalized when he died.

• Another Washington County man, between ages 60 and 85, who was hospitalized when he died.

Long-term care facilities, like the Christoffersen home, have been especially hard hit during the pandemic. The latest state data says 154 facilities — roughly half of Utah’s licensed long-term care centers — have had either a resident or employee test positive.

In all, 379 residents and 323 health care workers at long-term care facilities have tested positive for the virus as of Monday, the health department says. Sixty-two residents have died.

The Christoffersen home, near 700 South and Foothill Drive, is on the same campus as the George E. Wahlen Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center. The state owns the Christoffersen home and awarded a contract to Avalon Health Care to operate it.

Jeff Hanson, deputy director at the Utah Department of Veterans and Military Affairs who oversees the state’s veterans homes, said his department has been working with Avalon to make progress against the outbreak. Staffers and residents have been receiving regular COVID-19 tests.

Residents who test positive are being housed on the home’s upper floor, Hanson said. Those who test negative are on the lower floor.

Avalon barred visitors from the Christoffersen home in March — as has happened in nursing homes across the nation — and began screening workers and residents for symptoms, Hanson said. It’s suspected that an asymptomatic employee brought the coronavirus into the home.

Avalon has “been very religious about screening,” Hanson said, “and it’s just impossible to stop an asymptomatic carrier from coming in. And then we’re giving direct care, which means you’re in close proximity with the residents.”

Avalon also manages the state’s veterans nursing homes in Ogden, Payson and Ivins. Hanson said no coronavirus cases have surfaced in those facilities.

Utah’s overall COVID-19 case count has risen to 14,608 since the pandemic began.

Monday’s case tally is a hair above the 293 the state has been averaging for the past seven days. During that week, from June 9 to 15, the state has seen 2,049 new positive cases. There have been 26,078 lab tests processed in that time, putting the positive rate for those seven days at 7.9%

The week before, June 2-8, the daily average was 303 cases, and the positive rate for the week was 10%.

In Monday’s report, UDOH announced 13 more Utahns were hospitalized with COVID-19, for a total of 1,041 since the pandemic struck. The number hospitalized on Sunday was 137 people — 72 of them in intensive care units, 65 in other units.

According to data included on the state health department’s COVID-19 online dashboard for the first time Monday, 61.9% of the state’s intensive care unit beds are occupied, and 50.5% of non-ICU hospital beds are filled. The dashboard also has added data about outbreaks outside of long-term care facilities, seven-day rolling averages of cases per day, and breakdowns of preexisting conditions by age.

The dashboard changes reflect how much more data is available about the pandemic, said Tom Hudachko, UDOH spokesman.

“For example, we are now able to report mortality data by age at a more granular level and by race/ethnicity due to increasing numbers,” Hudachko told The Salt Lake Tribune.

“We are seeing more and more of our cases being driven by outbreaks in the workplace,” Hudachko said, so UDOH added information from those outbreaks — without naming the actually sites — to the dashboard’s data to “better inform our response strategies."

Among other things, UDOH is developing a detailed kit for employers, with resources on how to keep their employees and workplaces safer, he said. The goal “is to be transparent with our data and show Utah residents the data points we use to guide our public health response strategies.”

The dashboard identifies long-term care facilities where outbreaks have happened, but UDOH has no plans to name workplaces suffering them. An outbreak is defined as two or more cases associated with a setting outside of a household within 14 days.

Utah labs have processed tests for another 5,225 people in a day, according to UDOH’s Monday report. That ups the total number of people in the state tested to 272,938, with a total positive rate of 5.4%.

The state has had 8,380 people recover from COVID-19 — which, by UDOH’s definition, means going three weeks since being diagnosed and still being alive.