Since July 1, 62 residents and 21 staff members at Claremore Veterans Center have tested positive for COVID-19.
Of those residents, 34 are either asymptomatic or demonstrating mild symptoms, 18 are demonstrating moderate to severe symptoms, three have fully recovered and 10 residents are deceased.
Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs (ODVA) Executive Director Joel Kintsel said COVID-19 was not necessarily the cause of death for the 10 deceased residents, only they had previously tested positive for the virus. The 21 staff members are currently all isolating at their homes.
“Based on our contact tracing, we believe the most likely source for the virus was an asymptomatic employee who did not know they had the virus and unknowingly passed it on to a resident,” Kintsel said. “We have instituted strict infection control procedures and remain committed to working with the Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH) to ensure best practices are followed regarding isolation, testing and contact tracing. With just two additional positive tests over the last 72 hours, we are hopeful this outbreak has been contained.”
ODVA has directed, in accordance with the OSDH and Center for Disease Control and Infection best practices, the third floor of Claremore Veterans Center has been converted to a COVID-19-only ward to isolate those residents from the rest of the population. Residents also have been taken to local hospitals in the Claremore area as well as VA hospitals in Muskogee and Oklahoma City.
Residents who have been taken from the center will not return to Claremore Veterans Center until they have tested negative for COVID-19.
“Protecting the health and lives of our veterans is my top priority,” Gov. Kevin Stitt said. “I applaud the work of OSDH and ODVA to get the situation in Claremore under control, and I remain committed to providing whatever resources necessary to give our heroic veterans the care they deserve.”
The news of the outbreak has reached Washington, D.C., as well.
“Our veterans deserve the high quality care they have earned. Period,” U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe said. “After my office learned of the situation at the Claremore Veterans Center, we were highly concerned and immediately contacted the governor’s team and the appropriate state and federal entities to offer any assistance necessary. As a state operated facility, I appreciate the willingness of the Oklahoma secretary of veterans affairs and his team to promptly bring in the OSDH to implement any needed reforms to slow the spread of COVID-19 in the facility and provide the best quality care for all patients. I will continue to collaborate with their teams in Oklahoma and ensure they have access to federal assistance moving forward if needed.”
“The outbreak of COVID-19 cases stemming from the Claremore Veterans Center was extremely concerning. I am relieved ODVA immediately saw the issues at hand, took the necessary steps to fix the problems and will ensure something like this does not happen again,” U.S. Rep. Markwayne Mullin said. “I am confident in the leadership of the ODVA and Gov. Stitt and their commitment to Oklahoma’s veterans. We owe no greater debt than to those who have served our country and they deserve the highest quality of care.”
“I am thankful the Claremore Veterans Center has taken swift action to address the tragic outbreak of COVID-19 cases and deaths at the facility in the last month,” U.S. Sen. James Lankford said. “Claremore’s management team is working directly with ODVA and the OSDH to curb the spread and protect veterans, their families, and staff at the center. COVID-19 poses a difficult situation and a serious, unique threat to each veteran care facility. I am grateful for ODVA’s diligent efforts to keep facilities clean and safe and immediately address this spread. I will continue to work with the Oklahoma congressional delegation to ensure the state, Claremore Veterans Center and ODVA have what they need to keep our veterans safe.”
Kintsel requested an OSDH long-term care response team deployed to Claremore Veterans Center last week to conduct an assessment. It did not issue any citations for violations of long-term care facility protocols.
“Since the onset of COVID-19, the ODVA has worked diligently with the Oklahoma State Department of Health and our partners at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to best fulfill the agency’s mission to provide our veterans with the highest quality support and care available anywhere in the nation,” Secretary of Military and Veterans Affairs Ben Robinson said. “March 14, we locked down our veteran centers — which was a very tough decision for us to make because it meant separating loved ones from their veterans — but we knew it was the right thing to do. As a result, we have seen limited spread of COVID-19 in a majority of our facilities across the state.”
ODVA operates seven veterans centers across Oklahoma.
Ardmore, Clinton and Sulphur Veterans Centers have not had a known case of COVID-19. Lawton Veterans Center has had one confirmed case and that resident has recovered; Norman Veterans Center has one positive resident being cared for in-house, one positive resident in the hospital and four other residents who have recovered; and Talihina Veterans Center has had one confirmed case and that resident has recovered.
There have been no COVID-19 related deaths outside of Claremore Veterans Center.
“The Department of Veterans Affairs will continue to work closely with the state nursing home in Claremore and the Oklahoma State Health Department to ensure Veterans receive the best possible care,” VISN-19 Director Ralph Gigliotti, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs said. “Our first priority is a safe environment for Veterans and we will work closely with the state of Oklahoma to ensure they deliver that kind of care. We are all in this together. Veterans affairs will continue to provide guidance and expertise as needed during these unprecedented times.”