Employee at assisted living center in Columbia Falls tests positive for coronavirus, but no residents sickened so far

by WHITNEY ENGLAND
Whitefish Pilot | July 21, 2020 5:48 AM

BeeHive Homes, an assisted-living facility in Columbia Falls, had an employee test positive for COVID-19 on July 11, but after a week, no residents at the home have shown signs of sickness.

Julia Wiebelhaus, the owner of BeeHive Homes of Columbia Falls, said upon being notified of the positive test result by the Flathead City-County Health Department, the care facility immediately entered a quarantine mode with all residents instructed to stay in their rooms. This meant all activities were canceled, there would be no communal dining, everyone stays in their own rooms and personal protective equipment is utilized at all times.

The county provided masks, face shields and gowns for the facility following the news of the positive case, although the staff was already wearing masks prior to the incident.

After contact tracing, the health department determined nine other staff members to have been in “close contact” with the sick employee, and they were all immediately tested at a local clinic before beginning a 14-day quarantine in their own homes.

“It’s very scary, but we have just under a week to go,” Wiebelhaus said referring to July 25 as the day the facility will be in the clear from this incident, 14 days following the positive test result.

“We’re feeling positive because it’s been over a week and nobody is showing any symptoms, so that’s obviously a blessing,” she said.

The Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services sent a package of 70-plus tests to give to all staff and residents of BeeHive Homes, which arrived on site late in the afternoon on July 14. The facility has three homes and everyone was tested within a day, according to Wiebelhaus. BeeHive Homes brought the package of completed tests to Kalispell Regional Medical Center, which then delivered the package to the state testing facility in Helena on the following day.

Wiebelhaus said they do not have the test results yet, but expect to hear from the state this week. The facility will remain quarantined until July 25 as long as no other tests come back positive.

“We try to take every precaution that we can; hand sanitizer, hand washing, face masks, whatever we can do to stay safe, and ask staff to be safe when they go out of the building,” Wiebelhaus said.

She also said unfortunately the employee that tested positive for the novel coronavirus did not notify administration of feeling ill and denied that she was going to be tested for COVID-19 when an administrator asked on the day of her test. Because of this, the employee continued to work for the next three days before being sent home on July 11.

“She must have [felt some symptoms], but she said nothing, unfortunately,” Wiebelhaus explained. “I’m not really sure why she would do that, but she did…”

The BeeHive Homes residences have been closed off to visitors since the coronavirus reached Montana, only recently allowing some visitation through the window while wearing masks and remaining six feet apart. The staff also completes temperature and symptom checks on the residents three times a day, as well as staff wellness checks upon entering each shift.

With the elderly being listed by the Centers for Disease Control as one of the most vulnerable populations for COVID-19 complications, Wiebelhaus remains concerned of the threat the virus poses to her residents. But she is confident the safety protocols BeeHive Homes has in place protect the residents as much as possible.

“Of course it’s a concern, it’s an invisible enemy,” she said. “You don’t know if it’s entered your building; you know that your staff will leave and go home to their families, and you hope they don’t get exposed, or that they are asymptomatic so they are a carrier. I mean you just don’t know.”