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Asante reports COVID-19 outbreak

Asante, one of the largest employers in Southern Oregon, reported a COVID-19 outbreak at Rogue Regional Medical Center in Medford Sunday, and Jackson County Public Health has confirmed that two “clusters” at the hospital have produced nine positive cases.

According to a news release by Asante Sunday morning, in “recent weeks” there were “two separate instances unrelated to each other when several employees at Asante Rogue Regional tested positive for COVID-19. During these instances, there are no known cases of patients acquiring COVID-19 from an Asante employee.”

The first cluster stems from a nurse who began experiencing symptoms after working a shift. She stayed home once symptoms surfaced. The nurse is believed to have come down with the virus during the week of Sunday, July 5. According to Asante Employee Health Contact Tracing Director Dr. Megan Frost, the nurse in question didn’t experience COVID-19 symptoms until four days after she worked a final shift at the hospital.

Frost said she was not authorized to specify in which unit the nurse worked. As per Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, Frost added, the employee will not be allowed to work until 10 days have passed since the onset of symptoms in addition to 72 hours from the resolution of symptoms.

“Jackson County Public Health also will interview the patient as well as our employee health (department), I regards to their symptom resolution,” Frost said. “And because symptoms sometimes are a little bit ambiguous — like, ‘I’ve had a cough for a long time but it’s gotten a lot better and all of my other symptoms have been gone for six days’ — so we work with the Public Health Department to come to a determination as to when to allow that person back to work.”

The second cluster began during the week that began July 12 after an asymptomatic patient who had stayed at ARRMC for four days was tested prior to being transferred to a skilled nursing facility for post-discharge care. That test came back positive, and three employees who cared for the patient also tested positive, Asante reported.

“But I know that Jackson County Public Health is still looking into those numbers as we’re still continuing the investigation,” Frost said, “so they’re going to put out a final report, in regards to numbers.”

Frost said Asante’s contact tracing has yet to reveal an Asante patient who contracted COVID-19 from either of the two cases that started the outbreak.

“So as far as we can tell we have not had any positive patients that have come out of either of these cases,” she said. “As far as we can tell, there has not been either from an Asante employee to a patient or from patient to patient. We continue to trace those patients that we feel like were potentially were exposed and we put them onto special precautions and we notify their attending physician that they had a potential exposure and that they need to be on the lookout for any symptoms, but so far we have not found any patients that have come positive from those exposures.”

According to Asante, the patient was transferred to Asante Ashland Community Hospital. Since the patient was at ARRMC for four days, Frost said, it’s difficult to know how many people were exposed to the virus.

“We follow the CDC guidelines for the definition of what an exposure is, which is greater than 15 minutes for less than six feet,” she said. “So what we do is we contact the nursing managers and the managers of all the departments and ask them to evaluate their employees who have had any contact with the patient, then they get back to us.”

Additionally, Frost said, two more Asante employees who work in another ward also have tested positive for COVID-19, but those cases are believed to be from community exposure.

Also Sunday, Jackson County Public Health reported 15 new cases of COVID-19, raising the total number of reported cases in Jackson County to 291, including 109 active infectious cases.

Jackson County Medical Director Dr. Jim Shames said none of the new cases are believed to be related to the Asante outbreak.

“So far we can’t see any connection,” he said, “but sometimes you learn things as the days go by.”

When asked if local residents should have any qualms about being treated at ARRMC, Shames said there’s probably nothing to worry about.

“As far as I can tell the hospitals are bending over backwards to keep people safe,” he said. “They are using appropriate PPE and they have been since the beginning and I think the proof is that we are not seeing the spread of this disease in our health care institutions. ... I think that the hospitals are safe for patients.

“And we’ve certainly seen a phenomenon that we want to avoid, which is that people with treatable, serious illnesses have at times avoided getting the healthcare they need because they’re afraid of getting COVID. And we don’t want people to not go to the emergency room with a heart attack or a stroke those things need prompt attention and people need to utilize appropriate health care.”

Joe Zavala can be reached at 541-821-0829 or jzavala@rosebudmedia.com.