WEST JEFFERSON — In its most recent weekly situation update for Ashe County on Oct.9, AppHealthCare reported an outbreak of positive COVID-19 cases at Forest Ridge Assisted Living.

According to this data presented by AppHealthCare, there were a total of 19 active cases with six being staff members and 13 being residents. The number of cumulative cases for FRAL presented as of Oct. 9 was 15 staff and 30 residents, with the last positive result being Oct. 7.

As of press time, on Oct. 13, AppHealthCare listed 6 total deaths for Ashe County. On Oct. 8, Spokesperson for AppHealthCare Melissa Bracey confirmed there had been three deaths of FRAL residents related to COVID-19.

Since the onset of the outbreak, Executive Director Amanda Calloway has provided families with regular updates through the use of memos. The first of the memos was sent out on Sept. 25 after the facility became aware of its first resident who tested positive that morning. Also at that time, two team members tested positive.

Included in this memo was a reminder that all residents continue to be screened for symptoms during each shift and all residents and team members were scheduled to be tested again on Sept. 28.

After this confirmation of three positive cases on Sept. 25, the building was professionally cleaned and disinfected by a partner company that specializes in COVID response. Also included in the memo was a reminder that all residents who have been confirmed positive are isolated in their room and when a care visit is necessary, full PPE, including a KN95 mask, gown, gloves and shoe covers, is worn.

In the memo, Calloway said they have been fortunate to have clinicians from across Ridge Care Senior Living sister communities help out while many regular team members are unable to work.

She also provided an update about how residents and team members who tested positive were coping with the symptoms.

“Overall, our residents are doing well. Most are experiencing low-grade fevers, some diarrhea, and body aches. Many residents are also feeling a bit anxious, but it’s hard to tell whether this is a result of the virus or because of how unsettled things have been in the community. Of course, a few residents have experienced more significant symptoms and are being closely monitored by their physician and our resident care team. Your prayers for those residents and their families are appreciated.

The reports we’re getting from our COVID-positive team members are generally positive, as well. The most common symptoms they’re experiencing are cough and fatigue. We’re in close, daily contact with each of our team members, ensuring that their symptoms are well managed and that they have access to the care they need.”

Cameron Keziah who serves as Regional Vice President of Community Relations for the Western Region and Olivia Jenkins who is Regional Director of Clinical Services for the Western Region provided information about Forest Ridge’s response.

According to Keziah, Forest Ridge was notified by an employee of a positive COVID-19 diagnosis late at night on Sept. 23.

FRAL has been enforcing protocols, which have been in place set by their home office since the beginning of the pandemic. These protocols have been frequently updated over the past few months as the situation continues to evolve.

According to Keziah, any time a community is notified of a positive they immediately test all team members and residents.

Abbott Labs BinaxNOW rapid tests were distributed to nursing homes and assisted living facilities from the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services. Ridge Care has these tests available in all of their communities. In addition to the rapid tests, they also have nasopharyngeal swab testing through scheduled testing by MAKO Medical Laboratories.

According to Keziah and Jenkins, rapid tests have been useful for them to quickly test staff and residents which aids them in slowing spread and allows them to immediately begin isolation procedures.

Keziah said when they have team members exhibiting symptoms, they immediately test them and send them home.

According to Keziah, they are taking extra precautions by having staff who are symptomatic remain at home for 14 days, while continuing to receive their normal pay check. The Centers for Disease Control recommends a 10 day isolation period or 24 hours fever-free before returning to work.

While staff members are quarantining, daily check-ins are completed.

According to Keziah, if a resident tests positive they are instantly quarantined and are isolated from the rest of the population. While entering a room to provide any care for a resident who tested positive, staff members don full PPE including a face shield and a KN95 mask, a gown, gloves and shoe coverings.

All residents in the community have been provided with a KN95 mask to wear when staff enters their room.

Jenkins said they recently updated their protocols and all team members are now wearing face shields.

FRAL has both an assisted living and memory care section of their community and Keziah said overall the spread has been mainly located in the assisted living section of the community.

“We are big believers in transparency, we are partners with our families, we are partners with our practitioners,” Keziah said.

Keziah said they have the best families they could ask for and the outpouring of support has makes caring for the residents very rewarding.

“We are all in this together,” Jenkins said.

All previously negative residents and team members were re-tested on Monday, Oct. 5, and results will be reported as they are available.

Keziah and Jenkins both spoke about the dedication of the staff at FRAL. Since the beginning of the pandemic, no team members have walked out or quit.

“All of our team members have stepped up, we have not lost a single team member from a walk out or anything like that from the pandemic,” Keziah said.

FRAL continues to be in contact with health department officials several times a day.

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