Sunday, November 29, 2020
Nov. 29, 2020

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Salish Lodge coronavirus outbreak raises a question: When does the public get notified?

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On Sept. 23, managers at the Salish Lodge & Spa learned of a COVID-19 outbreak at the luxury resort, that has now infected at least 23 staff members and two guests.

On Sept. 26, Salish Lodge, on social media, told guests to “Come and enjoy our delicious mascarpone buttermilk pancakes.” The next morning they closed sit-down dining at the resort.

On Sept. 30, Public Health — Seattle & King County sent out a news release announcing the outbreak at the resort. The health department said they were investigating. They said anyone who had been to the resort in the last two weeks should get tested for the virus, watch for symptoms and quarantine for 14 days.

But the delayed announcement, a full week after the hotel said the outbreak was discovered, enraged some people who’d visited the lodge, unaware of the spate of infections hanging over their weekend getaway, and it came far too late for many to limit their social interactions after potential exposure.

It also raised the question — who’s responsible for informing the public when a business has an outbreak?

Salish Lodge, in a letter sent to some guests Thursday, said when they initially discovered positive cases they only traced “close contacts” of the infected people, those who were within six feet for more than 15 minutes.

They determined no guests met the criteria, so none were notified.

“It was not until September 30th that King County Public Health determined the number of cases to be a public health concern and advised us to contact guests who have visited since September 16,” Salish Lodge wrote. “We hoped to never have to send this message to our beloved guests.”

Public Health — Seattle & King County said its contact tracing teams investigates positive cases and potential links between them.

“In many situations, the organization has the ability to provide contacts lists and we are able to work with the organizations involved to notify those who were potentially exposed,” said Sharon Bogan, a spokesperson for the agency. “In this outbreak, public notification can help to notify people who may have visited the lodge, spa, restaurant or gift shop who may have been exposed and provide them with guidance on next steps.”

“We would employ a similar notification decision-making process in other situations in which we’re concerned multiple people may have been exposed but there is no other way to notify them.”

Alan Stephens, general manager of the lodge, said they’ve been in “lockstep” with the county health department, “following their lead when it comes to determining number of cases to be a public health concern.”

He said they remain confident no guests had “close contact” with staff who tested positive and that they informed guests when instructed to by the health department. He said they’d contacted more than 1,000 guests on Thursday.

Patrick Harrison, who does publicity and communications for Seafair, went with his husband to Salish Lodge for a three-day vacation ending Sept. 18. The pandemic canceled their long-planned trip to Croatia and they wanted to get away from the house for the first time since March.

Harrison said at the resort, there was hand sanitizer everywhere and all the employees wore masks. They ordered room service and had a great time. But on Tuesday, nine days after their visit, and six days after the hotel discovered the outbreak, he got a text from his sister, who’d seen a media report of the outbreak.

He found the story, called the hotel, and a couple hours later he got an apologetic call back.

“Only after the story started to break is when they finally reached out,” Harrison said. “It just infuriates me to not follow up.”

Since the weekend away, he’s been grocery shopping and to a (socially-distanced) sports bar.

“If I would have known, of course, I would have self-quarantined and stayed home,” he said. “To not reach out, they are creating a possibility of spread.”

The lodge has since shut down through Wednesday, during which time it will be cleaned, management said. They said they’ve hired an agency to “intensify daily health screenings and testing options for our entire workforce.”

“At the end of the day, all we care about are the team members’ health and the guests’ health that come here to the lodge,” Stephens said. “That is our number one priority.”

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