MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — One of the scariest aspects of COVID-19 is showing up in the worst of possible places. Mass testing revealed employees at a long-term care facility had the disease, but showed no symptoms.

Johanna Shores is one of the largest multi-teared senior homes in the Twin Cities. It’s where Annie Glenn, wife of astronaut John Glenn, spent her final days. Lyn Glenn, who lives in St. Paul, is Annie’s daughter.

“In the middle of the night I got a phone call that Mom had a fever and she was coughing,” Lyn Glenn said.

On Monday, Annie Glenn lost her battle with COVID-19. She was one of 11 residents to die from the virus. Not long after, her daughter discovered some employees caring for residents were sick themselves.

Last Friday, National Guard medics tested 545 residents and staff members. None had any symptoms, but five residents and 23 workers all tested positive.

Lyn Glenn says she appreciates the data.

“I really respect the transparency of Johanna Shore that we are told as people who have family there,” she said.

The director of Johanna Shores talked with WCCO. Justin Birkeli, the campus administrator, said workers were surprised to know they tested positive.

“They had no symptoms at all so they had no idea they were potentially a carrier,” Birkeli said.

After getting the results, Birkeli says they immediately sent infected workers home.

“We have an amazing dedicated staff who was willing to step up to cover it over next period of time,” he said.

Birkeli says staff were already wearing face shields, but this new information is key.

“We were able to quickly identify those staff members that were asymptomatic so we would be able to minimize any further spread and exposure to our residents or coworkers,” Birkeli said.

Johanna Shores was among the first in Minnesota to get community-wide testing. It’s part of the state’s new plan to stop COVID-19 in care homes. And it’s given Annie Glenn’s daughter a new mission.

“If there was anything I could do to spread the word that everybody needs to push for more testing, I would do it,” Lyn Glenn said.

WCCO asked the Minnesota Department of Health about the testing. The plan is to do mass testing at facilities where someone has tested positive.

“It has been insightful to recognize the scope of asymptomatic health care workers that are in facilities. It emphasizes the importance of good infection control,” MDH’s Scott Smith said. “Any positive asymptomatic health care workers are tracked the same way as any other positive case. The health care workers are interviewed and asked about community contacts and if they work at any other health care facility.”

As for magnitude, Smith said, “point prevalence surveys, facility-wide surveys, in nursing homes have shown anywhere between 5-30% of HCW’s can be positive depending on the total case numbers in a facility. … Any HCW who has a positive SARS-CoV-2 PCR test but remains asymptomatic is recommended to stay out of work for 10 days following specimen collection. If they develop symptoms after their positive test, they will be excluded from work either 10 days following their illness onset or after they have two negative tests. We know asymptomatic HCWs can be sources of infection in nursing homes, which is why MDH is recommending point prevalence studies in these facilities.”

For more on the state’s plan to battle the virus in longterm care facilities, click here.

Susan-Elizabeth Littlefield

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