Staff member at Western State Hospital tests positive for COVID-19

Delay in the Western State Hospital expansion project. | Credit: WHSV
Delay in the Western State Hospital expansion project. | Credit: WHSV(WHSV)
Published: Apr. 1, 2020 at 4:00 PM EDT
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A staff member at Western State Hospital in Staunton has tested positive for COVID-19.

At this point, the Central Shenandoah Health District and the Virginia Department of Health have confirmed two cases in Augusta County, one case in Staunton, and two cases in Waynesboro, in addition to 10 cases in Harrisonburg and nine cases in Rockingham County. The state health department has not listed all of the cases confirmed by our local health district on their statewide map, however.

But those numbers are based on the listed residence of patients and not on their workplace, so it's unclear where in those numbers the Western State employee may be listed, if they were included in the


Western State confirmed to WHSV that a part-time staff member at the mental health facility received a positive test for the virus this week.

A spokesperson for the facility said they couldn't release any further details about the staff member, but that they hope for a full recovery as quickly as possible.

Western State staff is working with the Virginia Department of Health to identify any employees or patients that had close contact with the staff member and have them monitor their symptoms and take necessary precautions according to CDC guidelines.

They say they've been screening employees before each shift since March 14, in accordance with guidelines from the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services (DBHDS).

No patients at the hospital have shown any major symptoms of the coronavirus, according to staff, but Western State says they are "working to prevent possible cases and planning for what to do should there be one."

They're following CDC guidelines for health care organizations, implementing restricted visitation policies, using further increased infection control measures, and have put into place social distancing practices with staff and patients to minimize risk of exposure.

Current CDC guidelines advise against most health care workers wearing masks unless they are likely to be in close contact with someone who has the coronavirus. Unlike N95 respirators, face masks only provide barrier protection against droplets and don't filter small particles from the air. The CDC recommends that patients with confirmed COVID-19 cases wear masks to prevent potential spread from themselves to others, but they say masks are not recommended as a means to keep someone without the virus from contracting it.

The hospital is also preparing for ways to isolate any patients should there be any positive cases there.

"We are also taking every opportunity to decompress our hospital census and rapidly arrange for community based services for those who can be safely discharged because living in a congregate setting can increase risk," a spokeswoman said. "Finally, we are doing everything we can to procure additional PPE, such as masks, gloves, gowns, etc, which is an extreme challenge in the national shortage of PPE."


Western State Hospital is one of of only two hospitals in the Shenandoah Valley that offers inpatient mental health services and has also been working with limited capacity recently due to

. As of the fall of 2019, a top Virginia mental health official said the state's nine official mental hospitals were operating at 97.5% of their capacity.

Visitation policies at DBHDS facilities across Virginia

Since March 14, no visitors have been allowed in DBHDS facilities at all as a way to prevent the risk of spread of COVID-19, only allowing people admitted to facilities and people employed by the facilities. Exceptions are made for contractors, necessary vendors, and lawyers representing clients in the facilities.

However, the Commonwealth Center for Children and Adolescents (CCCA), has “limited” visitation. Limited visitation means that visitors are not allowed to enter the facility except for certain situations, or in the case of a minor child, the visitor is a parent or approved guardian. CCCA, located in Staunton, is a mental health hospital for children under age 18.

For all DBHDS facilities, no more than two visitors are allowed at a time. All visitors are screened and must be negative for symptoms consistent with COVID-19 to be permitted to enter. It is recommended that visitors call the facility on the day of the visit before coming to the hospital to be screened for symptoms.

What to know about preventing the spread of COVID-19

Most people don't suffer much from COVID-19, but it can cause severe illness in the elderly and people with existing health problems.

The coronavirus that causes COVID-19 can cause mild to more severe respiratory illness. In a small proportion of patients, COVID-19 can cause death, particularly among those who are older or who have chronic medical conditions. Symptoms include fever, cough, and difficulty breathing. Symptoms appear within 14 days of being exposed to an infectious person. COVID-19 spreads primarily through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes.

To lower the risk of respiratory germ spread, including COVID-19, the Virginia Department of Health encourages the following effective behaviors:

• Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer only if soap and water are not available.

• Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.

• Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when coughing or sneezing.

• Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.

• Stay home when you are sick.

• Avoid contact with sick people.

• Avoid non-essential travel.

For the latest factual information on COVID-19, you're encouraged to check both the

and the