Six Mission Hospital staff test positive for COVID-19

Mission Hospital campus
HEROIC EFFORTS: Six staff members at Mission Hospital in Asheville have tested positive for COVID-19. As of May 27, no additional cases related to the staff cases were identified. Photo by Cindy Kunst

Six staff members at Asheville’s Mission Hospital have tested positive for COVID-19, said Dr. William Hathaway, Mission Health’s chief medical officer, during a May 27 press conference. The employees all worked together in the same unit on one of the hospital’s pulmonary floors.

The cases were first identified on May 22, said Hathaway. Contact tracing of staff members and patients was conducted before Mission determined it necessary to test the remainder of staff on the unit. As of May 27, no additional cases related to the staff cases have been identified.

“This cluster of cases occurred in some of our most dedicated and talented staff, staff who have put themselves on the front line of this illness and who take pride and privilege in caring for these patients,” Hathaway said. “They are among the most skilled in regards to their knowledge of isolation techniques and of their use of personal protective equipment.” 

As of May 27, the hospital is caring for eight COVID-19 patients, a number higher than the hospital’s previous two- to six-patient average. Hathaway said this increase reflects a greater prevalence of the disease in the community. Hospital staff are monitoring supplies closely and have ample supplies for patient care at this time, he added. 

The hospital’s peak caseload to date, reached last week, was 12 COVID-19 patients linked to an outbreak of the disease at a skilled nursing facility. Hathaway noted that those hospitalized were nursing staff members, not residents. 

Court proceedings will expand June 1

North Carolina courts will begin to expand operations Monday, June 1, consistent with orders issued May 21 by state Chief Justice Cheri Beasley. Under the new directives, filing deadlines for criminal matters and filings due pursuant to statutes of limitation or repose are extended until Friday, July 31. Filings and actions due in civil matters that had previously been extended are due June 1. Jury trials will continue to be suspended through July.

The county’s District Court will prioritize cases of domestic violence, impaired driving and Class A1 misdemeanors, including sexual battery, assault with a deadly weapon and misdemeanor child abuse, explained Todd Williams, Buncombe’s district attorney, at a May 27 press conference. 

Court officials anticipate a substantial backlog in cases, said Calvin Hill, the chief district court judge. Staff members are reviewing pending cases and prioritizing court dates based on severity, age and readiness, he said. “We ask for your patience during this time,” he said. 

To limit unnecessary congregating, the courts are working to establish time slots for individuals and attorneys, said Alan Thornburg, senior resident Superior Court judge. People listed on court calendars are expected to appear in court, he said, with leniency given to individuals with symptoms of COVID-19.  

Courthouse leadership has worked closely with Buncombe County officials to plan for a safe reopening, Hill said. County staff members are working to determine the number of people allowed in each courtroom while maintaining social distancing, and mask wearing, hand washing, sanitizing stations and additional cleaning protocols will be in place. 

In other news:

  • Buncombe County and Western North Carolina Community Health Services continue to offer free community-based COVID-19 testing. Testing will be able at Deaverview Community Apartments on Thursday, May 28, from 1-4 p.m.; Klondyke Homes on Tuesday, June 2, from 1-4 p.m.; Pisgah View Apartments on Wednesday, June 3, from 1-4 p.m.; and the Big Ivy Community Center in Barnardsville on Thursday, June 4, from 1-4 p.m. Language translation services will be available at all locations.
  • More than 40% of Buncombe County’s 279 COVID-19 cases are linked to outbreaks at four long-term care facilities, said Dr. Jennifer Mullendore, the county’s interim health director, during a May 27 press conference. According to data released May 26 by the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, the following Buncombe facilities are reporting cases of COVID-19: 37 staff, 61 residents and 13 resident deaths at Aston Park Health Care Center; two staff at Carolina Pines at Asheville; five staff, three residents and one resident death at Deerfield Episcopal Retirement Community’s Simonds Health Care Center; and two staff and one resident at Stonecreek Health and Rehabilitation. 
  • The American Red Cross reports an urgent need for blood donations to prevent blood shortages as hospitals resume elective surgical procedures. Donors who give blood through Sunday, May 31, will receive a Red Cross t-shirt, and donors who give blood in June will receive a $5 Amazon.com gift card via email. 
  • The WNC Career Expo will be held virtually Wednesday through Friday, June 3-5. The event, hosted in partnership by the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce and the Mountain Area Workforce Development Board, features regional businesses that will be hiring in the coming months. 
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About Molly Horak
Molly is a recent graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and writer for Mountain Xpress. Her work has appeared in the Citizen-Times, News and Observer and Charlotte Observer. Follow me @molly_horak

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