The number of residents and staff at Westwood Hills Nursing and Rehabilitative Services in Wilkesboro who tested positive for COVID-19 was up to 24 Wednesday morning, said Wilkes Health Department Director Rachel Willard.

Willard said 16 residents and eight staff members at the facility have tested positive.

Eighteen people - five staff people and 13 residents of the facility - tested positive last week, according to a media statement released July 24 by Westwood Hills spokesman Martha McMillan of Garner.

The statement released Friday said all residents of the facility with COVID-19 were transferred to a COVID-19 special care unit in Guilford County. “We will continue to retest our employees and residents routinely, as per our protocol, and under the direction of the Wilkes County Health Department,” it stated.

When Willard confirmed the outbreak the night of July 23, she said four staff members and 13 residents had tested positive. The facility had all remaining Westwood Hills staff and residents – a total of 291 people – tested on July 20 after one staff person initially tested positive, she said.

Willard said the outbreak at Westwood Hills was confirmed late on the afternoon of July 22. The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) defines two or more people with COVID-19 in a congregate living setting as an outbreak.

The statement from McMillan said, “Please know that we continue to monitor our residents’ temperatures and assess them for signs and symptoms of COVID-19 every shift. Likewise, we continue to rigorously screen staff prior to all shifts.”

“In the event any resident or staff member exhibits symptoms consistent with the virus, or tests positive, we will continue to work with the Wilkes County Health Department and the facility medical director for guidance on care and communication.” 

The statement listed dozens of steps taken at Westwood Hills to implement recommendations of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, including partnering with a laboratory in South Carolina to provide COVID-19 tests that deliver results in 48 to 72 hours.

“These tests, when we acquired them, provided the quickest results available to nursing homes. We proactively initiated routine testing of our employees and this will continue throughout the course of the public health emergency.”

The statement listed steps taken to secure adequate supplies of personal protective equipment, including distributing KN-95 and N-95 masks, “currently the gold standard,” to all staff.

“We were forced to pay exorbitant prices for these products but knew that if we had a positive case of the virus in the building, they would serve as critical protection. To date, all staff continue to wear KN95 or N95 when in patient care areas.”

It said Westwood Hills contracted with an environmental service company that specializes in electrostatic disinfection, which uniquely targets potentially infected surfaces using EPA endorsed chemicals known to combat the human coronavirus. 

“An isolation unit has been constructed in our facility and meets the requirements for mold remediation, an exceptionally high standard.”

The statement said Westwood Hills started screening visitors and staff before it was a CMS mandate.

“We have rigid screening processes that we require all employees to complete with supervision prior to the start of their shift. We established routine monitoring for presence of signs and symptoms of the virus in our residents.”

DHHS announced on July 21 that to standardize reporting of COVID-19 outbreaks in congregate living settings, it will update reports of these outbreaks by 4 p.m. on Tuesdays and Fridays.

According to DHHS, an outbreak is considered over if there is no evidence of continued transmission of COVID-19 within the facility. This is measured as 28 days after the latest date of onset in a symptomatic person or the first date of specimen collection from the most recent asymptomatic person, whichever is later.

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