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COVID-19 confirmed in north-central Wisconsin nursing homes

Resident identified as positive for virus in Rennes’s Rhinelander facility

April 17, 2020 by Richard Moore

Two nursing homes in north-central Wisconsin — one in Rhinelander — have confirmed cases of COVID-19 as of Wednesday morning, as the coronavirus continues to spread in the region.

All totaled, as of Wednesday, Oneida County had three confirmed cases of coronavirus, while Vilas County also had three. However, the public should know all the numbers are rapidly changing by the day.

Kelsy Bontz, the administrator of Rennes Health & Rehab Center in Rhinelander, confirmed the case in a March 29 message to family members of residents.

“We want to inform you that we have received confirmation an individual at Rennes Health & Rehab Center-Rhinelander was diagnosed with COVID-19,” the message stated. “Resident safety is our top priority. We are doing everything we can to ensure we stop the spread of COVID-19 within our facility, including staying in very close communication with local and state health officials to ensure we are taking all the appropriate steps.”

Bontz said all new admissions to the facility had been suspended while the facility staff worked with the Oneida County Public Health Department to assess the situation. She said family visitation would continue to be curbed.

“We understand you are concerned but it is crucial that we continue to restrict visitation to reduce the spread of this virus,” Bontz wrote. “We also understand connecting with family members is incredibly important to our residents. Family members are encouraged to connect with their loved ones through video chat, calling, texting, or other social media formats.”

The message offered family members assistance in establishing such channels of communication.

“We know this is a difficult time for everyone,” Bontz concluded. “We will be sure to contact you directly if there’s any concern with your loved one. Please know we are strictly adhering to all directions from the local and state health department.”

According to a Rennes press release, the test was administered at a hospital on March 27 and Rennes received notification of test results March 29.

“This individual is currently in off-site isolation,” the release stated. “The resident exhibited rapid onset of respiratory symptoms and was transferred to the hospital for evaluation. The facility has been in contact with the resident’s family and the Oneida County Public Health Department.”

Linda Conlon, the director of the Oneida County Health Department, said a man at Rennes in his 80s with underlying health conditions tested positive for COVID-19, and her department was diligently tracking the man’s contacts. 

“In a situation like this, we make sure we look at everyone who this gentleman came in contact with and assess their exposure and test if necessary,” Conlon said. “We are testing others within the facility and continue to work closely with them. We are working with the facility to assure proper strategies are in place to protect both residents and employees alike.”

Conlon stressed everyone needs to follow the governor’s safer-at-home order for the protection of everybody, especially those at greatest risk for COVID-19.

Rennes Group officials said all of its facilities have been and will continue to follow daily precautionary procedures, which includes a continuing facility lockdown with visitor restrictions implemented March 13 to only essential visitors, defined as necessary medical care and end-of-life situations.

In addition, all staff, residents, and essential visitors complete a daily screening, which includes questions regarding recent travel based on current CDC recommendations, respiratory symptoms, and a temperature reading. Essential visitors complete hand hygiene and wearing of masks, and new admissions are currently suspended in Rhinelander. 

All staff are wearing personal protective equipment including gowns, masks, gloves, and eye protection, Rennes officials stated.

Wausau, too

Meanwhile, according to a press release from North Central Health Care, an employee at Mount View Care Center nursing home in Wausau tested positive for coronavirus.

“The staff member is currently in isolation and receiving medical guidance,” Michael Loy, CEO of North Central Health Care (NCHC), said. “We have notified public health officials as required and are following procedures recommended by the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention.” 

On March 22, Loy said, the employee in question was asymptomatic upon arrival to Mount View Care Center, but developed symptoms while at work during the scheduled shift. 

“As part of employee screening and reporting procedures, the employee faithfully followed the required protocol and self-reported the change in condition to management and was immediately removed from any contact with residents, sent home to self-quarantine and advised to seek medical guidance for further testing,” NCHC said. “North Central Health Care officials were informed on March 28 of the employee’s positive COVID-19 test result. North Central Health Care have informed all staff, residents and families of any potential exposure to the diagnosed employee and are continuing to monitor residents and staff for changes in health.”

As of Wednesday morning, there were 1,351 positive cases of coronavirus in Wisconsin, with 25 deaths. Three cases had been reported in Vilas County and three in Oneida County, with no deaths so far in either county. Iron County had one reported case and one reported death.

With three cases reported, Vilas County did not consider the disease to have community spread as of Tuesday.

“Even though we have an additional known case, we do not consider Vilas County to have community spread of the virus,” Laurel Dreger, the Vilas County health officer, said.

That individual is a close contact to one of the other two positive cases in the county, the health department stated, and is in isolation. The health department was contacting individuals with whom the patient had close contact.

“The term “community spread” means there is no known source of the disease, such as a recent contact with an infected person or travel from an area with a high number of cases,” the department stated. “This is not the case with our most recent confirmation.”

In Oneida County, however, officials do believe there is community spread of the virus because the second and third cases were unrelated to each other or the first case of COVID-19 diagnosed on Friday, March 27. 

“With the two additional cases identified, it is reasonable to believe that there is now community spread of the virus in Oneida County,” officials stated in a release.

Richard Moore is the author of the forthcoming “Storyfinding: From the Journey to the Story” and can be reached at richardmoorebooks.com.

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