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After a deadly 2020, Missouri’s veterans homes warding off surge in virus cases

After a deadly 2020, Missouri’s veterans homes warding off surge in virus cases

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St. Louis Veterans Home

An inactive M60A3 tank sits near the front entrance of the Missouri Veterans Home - St. Louis on Thursday, July 10, 2014, in Bellefontaine Neighbors. Photo by Huy Mach, hmach@post-dispatch.com

JEFFERSON CITY — After a surge of COVID-19 killed 162 residents of Missouri’s state-run nursing homes for veterans last year, the agency that runs the facilities says cases are significantly down despite a recent jump in cases in the state.

Missouri Veterans Commission spokeswoman Aimee Packard said there currently is one active case among residents and six active cases among staff within the seven homes it operates.

“We are closely monitoring COVID-19 county positivity rates. The safety of our team members and veterans is our No. 1 priority,” Packard said Wednesday.

The last death to occur because of complications related to COVID-19 was in early January.

Vaccines began being administered later that month, with the agency working with outside groups to offer incentive programs to workers to get their shots.

Veterans service organizations, for example, donated big-screen TVs and cash to be used as an employee incentive program.

The last COVID-related death came just days after an investigative report revealed state officials overseeing the state’s pandemic response were slow to react to the danger of the rapidly spreading virus last summer.

The report, produced by St. Louis law firm of Armstrong Teasdale, said it was only after Missouri Veterans Commission Executive Director Paul Kirchhoff met with Gov. Mike Parson on Oct. 1 that rapid antigen tests were deployed to the homes and veterans commission staff began receiving software upgrades and were asked to provide status updates during meetings of the pandemic oversight panel.

Parson ordered the outside investigation on Oct. 2.

In addition, the report noted that the Missouri Veterans Commission did not have a method to meaningfully analyze the data it was collecting on the pandemic until it was provided with specialized computer software.

Had the commission had the ability to spot and analyze trends, “they would have seen in early September that something was ‘not right,’” the report noted.

The investigation triggered a shake-up on the commission, with former chairman of the oversight panel Tim Noonan quitting on the day the report was released.

Packard said MVC now has procedures in place to help safeguard veterans and staff and will adjust restrictions on the homes based on the local county positivity rate.

The vaccination rate among the 741 residents served by the homes is at 95%, while 60.1% of the agency’s employees are vaccinated.

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