Coronavirus outbreak at Montana nursing home leaves 7 dead in a week

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Staff at a Montana nursing home announced two additional deaths related to COVID-19 on Monday, tallying seven deaths in a week.

Both deaths at Canyon Creek Memory Care Community were among female residents in their 90s, according to the Billings Gazette, citing a RiverStone Health, the county’s public health department, Monday press release.

Nursing homes and other facilities for the elderly have proven particularly vulnerable to outbreaks.

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Despite the recent deaths, staff reported no new cases at the nursing home on Sunday and said that the home's "momentum in the battle against the virus remains strong." The number of positive cases at the stands at 36 staff and 50 residents, it said.

“We are happy to report that residents are doing well and we are keeping spirits high – enjoying their favorite activities, singing their favorite songs, and eating delicious meals – with our team by their sides,” officials wrote in a Facebook post on Monday.

On Monday, Montana Gov. Steve Bullock said in a Tweet that the situation at the nursing home is “a tragic reminder of the devastation COVID-19 can inflict on Montanans…”

Canyon Creek Memory Care began testing residents and staff on July 3 after a staff member tested positive, said spokesman Chase Salyers with Koelsch Communities, the Washington state company that runs the facility. By July 7, 43 residents and 15 staff tested positive. Two residents were admitted to the hospital at that time. Nursing home staff said the community was under quarantine and residents and their families were alerted to the situation.

That same day, Bullock said he asked the Department of Public Health and Human services to issue an emergency rule requiring all nursing homes and assisted living facilities to participate in surveillance testing of staff and residents as a condition of visitation, to protect those at high risk. The rule was issued to avoid a similar situation like that at Canyon Creek.

Canyon Creek was among a minority of long-term care and assisted living facilities in Montana that declined participation in a free sentinel testing program that was encouraged by state officials, Bullock had said on July 7.

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"Since the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak, we have closely monitored and implemented all guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and from state and local health departments to prevent transmission of the virus," nursing home officials wrote on a July 7 Facebook post.

They wrote that in mid-February of this year, protocols were put in place at Canyon Creek to help prevent the exposure of COVID-19, including limiting visitation to only essential persons or in end of life situations, the screening of every individual upon entry to the community (including staff) for temperature, travel history, or known exposure and an increase in both food and PPE supply stock.

By Tuesday morning, Montana state health officials reported 1,843 cases and 32 deaths statewide.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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