Former employee says Olympia facility did 'everything right' trying to avoid COVID-19 outbreak

The COVID-19 outbreak in the U.S. is hitting new heights in a way that looks very similar to how the virus first broke out in earlier in 2020. Health officials are closely watching how many new cases are reported across the country after a new, single-day record, Thursday, with more than 88,000 new positives.

Thurston County Health Department officials said 45 of 60 residents at Garden Courte Memory Care in Olympia tested positive for the virus. Seven residents of the care facility died. The outbreak is reminiscent of Life Care Center of Kirkland, which became the nation’s first epicenter for COVID-19 back in March.

The Washington State Department of Social and Health Services said there are currently six care facilities in Thurston County dealing with positive COVID-19 cases, with a total of 25 facilities in the county since March.

Garden Courte has been on lockdown since the beginning of the pandemic to reduce the spread of coronavirus.

“We’re dealing with a fragile group of people. They’re elderly, their health is more complicated. It just is and that’s the ugly truth of it,” said Vickie French, a former employee of Garden Courte.

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French worked for the facility up until last week after leaving her job to care for her aging mother. She said the facility followed all the guidelines to limit the risk of coronavirus—masks are required, staff does daily health screenings, visitors aren’t allowed inside, and residents only leave the building for doctor’s appointments. Even with all those precautionary measures, an outbreak spread through the facility for the first time in the pandemic.

“We’re eight months into this and we’re just now getting outbreaks. That telling you this is a public problem,” said French.

The health department said a staff member was first to test positive in early October. An outbreak infected 45 residents and 25 staff members. Seven residents died.

“Everything was done right. The staff member called the executive director right away, she called all her department heads, notified the health department,” said French. “We hid nothing. We did letters and emails out. We have been very, very upfront and being honest. And since then, once a week, the health department has come in.”

Garden Courte’s director said they are working very closely with health officials to make sure covid is no longer here. The director said the health department will continue testing until there are no more positive cases and quarantine is completed.

Robin Dale, president and CEO of the Washington Health Care Association, said he is concerned about a bigger issue at long-term care facilities. DSHS said more than 40 facilities in Washington recently confirmed positive cases.

“That’s a lot of buildings over that past 10 days to two weeks that are reporting increase infection rates. And that’s got to be coming from community spread,” said Dale.

A spokesperson for DSHS said the uptick is “definitely a concern” this fall and heading into the winter season.

Both Dale and French said they believe not enough people are acting responsibly in this pandemic, which is putting the most vulnerable people at higher risk.

“They’re not doing their due diligence. But the self-entitled attitude, “Can’t take my freedom away,” well, you’re taking someone’s away,” said French. “People are not able to get the care they need because of the outbreak, and why? Because someone somewhere is not doing what they should be doing. We’re never going to get past this if we don’t put a stop to it. And that means wearing your mask correctly, social distancing and Washington your hands.”