A staff member at the Wyoming Rescue Mission in Casper tested positive for COVID-19 last week, multiple sources said, and one resident says the situation wasn’t handled with enough urgency, claiming that a different staff member told him to keep quiet about the case.
Brad Hopkins, executive director of the mission, confirmed the positive case to the Star Tribune on Monday morning. He said a staff member woke with symptoms on Tuesday morning of last week and consulted the Healthcare for the Homeless clinic on the Lifesteps Campus. Clinicians then directed the staff member to seek testing for the virus, according to Hopkins.
Hopkins said the staff member’s positive test result came back Thursday, but residents of the mission were notified before then about the situation.
He said three other staff members were put on 14-day quarantine and eight residents were taken to the Westwood Elementary quarantine facility established by the Natrona County Emergency Operations Center. Hopkins said all eight residents tested negative for the virus and will return to the shelter Monday.
A resident of the mission who spoke to the Star-Tribune on the condition of anonymity said he was informed about the positive case on Wednesday of last week. The resident, who asked for anonymity for fear of retaliation, said a mission staff member Wednesday night came into the men’s bunk room at the shelter and told residents there had been a confirmed case of the virus.
“He came in the room and told all of us in the dorm that somebody had tested positive for COVID-19, and he had a little hand sanitizer thing, and he had us all sanitizing our hands,” the resident said.
No residents were taken to be tested or quarantined that night, according to the resident. The residents were told there would be a meeting to discuss the situation, but to his knowledge, the meeting never happened, the resident who spoke with the Star-Tribune said.
When asked, Hopkins said residents were informed of the situation “immediately” after finding out themselves. The resident said that was not entirely true.
Instead, the next day, the resident confronted a different staff member about the positive case. He was first told by that staff member there was no case.
“And it was probably an hour later, two hours later, he come back over and he asked me to speak with him. And he pulled me off in a room by ourselves. And then he said there is somebody that tested positive,” the resident said.
The staff member asked the resident to keep the information to himself. The resident said to his knowledge no one at the shelter was taken to be tested or quarantined Thursday, either.
By Friday night, however, the resident said at least seven people from the men’s dorm, including a friend of his and his bunk mate, were taken to the Westwood facility to be quarantined or tested.
Between Wednesday and Friday night, residents of the mission were able to leave for work or other obligations, according to the resident. The resident interviewed said though he shared a dorm with the residents who were taken to be quarantined, he had not been interviewed about his contacts with either the staff member or the other residents.
“It seems like that they’re not really saying what’s going on, and it’s causing people to just be lackadaisical about what they’re doing, where they’re going, who they’re around,” the resident said.
Hopkins said the Rescue Mission contacted the Natrona County Health Department “right away” Tuesday morning about the potential case. He said the department handled contact tracing and quarantines from there. Hopkins added that case managers at the mission have been wearing masks during meetings for at least the last two weeks.
He also said guests of the shelter have not been encouraged to leave during the day except for work.
Hopkins said there are no other positive cases at the mission and the shelter is following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines for reducing infection. Hopkins said staff are taking residents’ temperatures before they are allowed back into the shelter and following strict sanitizing guidelines.
Dr. Mark Dowell, Natrona County’s health officer, previously said he was significantly concerned about potential exposures to residents of the mission and other communal spaces. It’s one of the reasons the city set up Westwood as a quarantine space, so that people with nowhere else to go can isolate there safely while limiting exposure to other vulnerable populations.
“You can imagine, if a homeless person gets infected like at the mission, it’ll spread all over the county,” Dowell said last month.
Star-Tribune staff writer Seth Klamann contributed to this report.
Follow local government reporter Morgan Hughes on Twitter @morganhwrites
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