WILLMAR — Bethesda has found zero positive COVID-19 tests thus far among its senior living residents and tenants in Willmar and Olivia, but the nonprofit organization’s recently launched weekly testing regimen found 14 lab-confirmed positives from asymptomatic staff members.

Bethesda on Monday began testing of all residents within its skilled nursing facility, Bethesda Grand in Willmar, and assisted living facilities, Sunrise Village assisted and independent living of Willmar and Park View Village of Olivia. No positives were found among residents or tenants.

“This is a remarkable accomplishment,” said Michelle Haefner, president and chief executive officer of Bethesda, in a news release issued Thursday evening. “Reporting no positive test results among our skilled nursing residents and assisted living and largest independent living setting tenants truly depicts the dedication and adherence to our advanced infection control policies put forth by our frontline heroes.”

Weekly staff testing began Friday, May 15, in collaboration with the private lab partnership announced last week. Bethesda said Thursday that the new testing effort led to more than 850 tests and resulted in the identification of the 14 asymptomatic staff members.

“While this is concerning, we are glad we know,” Haefner said. “Had we not known of these asymptomatic carriers, we could have unknowingly been at risk for potential spread. Because of this knowledge, we were able to take prompt action, removing positive staff from the schedule, as well as conducting thorough internal contact tracing.”

All confirmed team members detected through the testing process experienced no symptoms and are now following guidance from health officials for isolation and care.

Bethesda’s weekly tests of employees, residents and tenants throughout the organization’s skilled nursing and congregate housing facilities in Willmar and Olivia are conducted regardless of symptom presentation, and Bethesda said previously that as many as 1,000 individuals could be tested each week. All tests are reported to the Minnesota Department of Health.

Testing will continue through the week with tenants at Bethesda’s Centennial Square in Willmar and Fairview Place partnership in Olivia.

Bethesda said in the release that it views the positive cumulative rate of approximately 1.6 percent among staff, residents and tenants as promising, reporting a rate well below the Minnesota Department of Health’s expected rates of 5 to 30 percent for similar facilities within the state.

“We credit this low rate to the strict infection control, (personal protective equipment), screening process and physical distancing our team members embrace each day,” Haefner said. “To know that we have unknowingly had 14 asymptomatic carriers of the virus within our settings, yet not one resident or tenant disease transfer, speaks volumes to the infection control procedures practiced by our staff. Their actions are keeping our community’s most vulnerable population protected.”

Bethesda began its second round of staff COVID-19 testing Thursday and will continue to conduct organization-wide proactive testing on a weekly basis.

According to the news release, Bethesda will continue to share ongoing COVID-19 developments with the public to promote peace of mind, comfort and public health prevention efforts.

The great majority of COVID-19 deaths in Minnesota have been associated with long-term care, according to state Department of Health data. One death of a Bethesda resident was previously reported.

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