The COVID-19 outbreak at St. John’s Health’s Living Center has spread, with eight residents and two staff members testing positive for the virus as of Monday.
The first case was identified about a week ago, which triggered an immediate round of testing for all staff and residents. As that testing regimen has progressed, more cases have been identified among the 37 residents.
Those who tested positive have been transferred to the hospital’s acute care side, CEO Dr. Paul Beaupre said.
“All eight are medically stable,” he said Monday afternoon.
With the Living Center residents being transferred into the primary care unit, the hospital had nine COVID-19 patients. That’s high in comparison to other points during the pandemic, but Beaupre said the facility could fit more patients should it need to.
Early in the pandemic, the hospital created a COVID-19 ward, which employs negative pressure rooms to make sure the virus or other infectious diseases don’t escape to the rest of the hospital. The nine patients use about half of that capacity, so St. John’s has room, should it need that, but another influx of COVID-19 patients would make life difficult for doctors and their teams.
“Then it becomes a staffing issue,” Beaupre said.
COVID-19 patients require more nurses and doctors than regular hospital patients, and those treating them use more personal protective equipment. Though Beaupre said he was confident about the amount of equipment the hospital had been able to buy and stockpile, more patients would stretch his people thin.
Should the COVID-19 rooms fill up, the intensive care unit is currently set up to house three coronavirus patients and three others. If necessary, all six beds could be dedicated to COVID-19 cases.
“But that means we no longer have, in theory, ICU space for someone who doesn’t have COVID,” Beaupre said.
All this new stress on the hospital’s resources comes as 22 staff members are out either under quarantine orders because they were a close contact of an infectious person or because they are COVID-19 positive.
“That begins to give us pause, because it becomes much more difficult to staff these patients that are coming in,” Beaupre said.
As St. John’s deals with the growing outbreak, the Wyoming Department of Health is easing its guidance for nursing homes in the state. When the pandemic started, the Health Department advised them to curb all visitation.
Then as statewide restrictions eased, it changed that guidance over the summer to allow outdoor visitation. Now, it’s saying nursing homes can begin some indoor visitation, too.
“It is my hope that some comfort can be available for the residents and families that have been so unfairly affected,” State Health Officer Dr. Alexia Harrist said at a press conference Monday.
Nursing homes do not have to follow that guidance, and at least until the outbreak subsides, St. John’s has paused all visitation, indoor or outdoor, at the Living Center.