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Duluth's Benedictine Living Community reports 9 COVID-19 cases

Seven residents and two staff of the long-term care facility were found to have the novel coronavirus.

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The Benedictine Living Community has nine confirmed cases of COVID-19, including two staff members. (Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com)

Benedictine Living Community of Duluth has discovered nine cases of COVID-19, administrators confirmed Wednesday morning.

Seven residents and two staff of the Benedictine Health Center, a skilled-nursing home within the Benedictine Living Community of Duluth near Kenwood Avenue, were found to have the novel coronavirus after the facility participated in the first round of a state testing program June 18, Executive Director Barb Wessberg said.

All but one of the residents who tested positive were asymptomatic, making it difficult to determine the source of the virus.

"That's really the challenging thing about this virus, is that people can test positive and have no symptoms," Wessberg said.

Patty Wheeler has family living at Benedictine. Her mother, 94, is in an assisted-living unit, while her father, 95, is in a separate memory-care unit. She said it's been a difficult few months because she can't visit her parents in person.

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"It makes me really sad, but I also understand that's the most vulnerable population and they have to (limit visitors)," Wheeler said.

She received a call from Benedictine on Friday, when testing results were back, alerting her that the facility identified two initial cases of the virus. Since then, the facility has stayed in close contact with her and her parents as more cases were found.

"I can't fault them. I mean, it's going to happen. And I think they've taken as many precautions as they can," Wheeler said.

Benedictine relocated the residents with confirmed cases to an isolated area of the building, which has dedicated staff. The two staff members with the virus are quarantining at home, she said.

The Minnesota Department of Health assigned a case manager and allocated additional resources to help the facility. And there are plans to do another round of testing Thursday, Wessberg said.

Benedictine has prepared for the virus since its start. According to its website , it created a COVID-19 task force, established rigorous cleaning, screens staff daily, limited visitors, practices social distancing while continuing compassionate care to ensure residents are mentally stimulated and more.

"Despite ... all of these efforts, we still had some positive cases," Wessberg said. "We continue to just be diligent in all of our efforts to control the spread."

Over 10% of confirmed cases in Minnesota are located in long-term care or assisted-living facilities, according to the health department's daily update Wednesday.

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Wessberg hopes there are no more positive cases, but there's a chance they may see one or two more, she said.

"That certainly is possible โ€” it's possible in the general public (so) it would be possible here," she said.

"These are not cases. These are like family members to us. And so, certainly, we are doing everything we can to keep our very beloved residents safe and healthy," Wessberg said.

Wheeler and her family stay connected with her mom and dad via video calls that staff facilitate as well as through visits to the facility where they stand outside and wave.

But she hasn't seen them in-person since March.

"My big fear ... with my dad is I never see my father alive outside the glass," Wheeler said.

Benedictine recently took steps to reunite Wheeler's parents, who haven't seen one another in-person since the pandemic started, as they live in separate units.

During one of her dad's frequent visits to the facility's garden, they brought her mom out as well for a reunion at a safe distance.

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"That was the best thing for my dad," she said.

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