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Bill Nichols State Veterans Home is currently COVID-19 free.

Bill Nichols State Veterans Home is clear of the coronavirus.

Staff at the home has been battling COVID-19 for two and half months and got the all clear Thursday. But it is not comfortable knowing the virus had infected 95 residents since April 1 and took the lives of 35. Alabama Department of Veterans Affairs (ADVA) commissioner Kent Davis said now is not the time to relax as COVID-19 is still a threat.

“We continue to treat the pandemic as pervasive and a very high risk,” Davis said. “That is why we continue to use the same protective measures and will be doing so for the foreseeable future. Now is not the time to let our guard down. Indeed, as Alabama has seen troubling numbers of new COVID-19 patients over the past few days, we need to be even more diligent given the unpredictability and severity of the virus.”

Davis wants staff with ADVA and HMR Veterans Services, which manages ADVA’s four state veterans homes, to use the knowledge gained to make sure an infectious outbreak doesn’t happen again.

“We have learned the value of taking immediate yet appropriate measures when a crisis such as the COVID-19 pandemic hits, such as restrictions on outside visitors, meticulous screening of residents and staff, and the use of personal protective equipment (PPE) and other safe medical practices,” Davis said. “While we completely understand that these precautions can cause inconveniences to our treasured residents, families and staff, they have ultimately proven to be effective in a very tough situation.”

Davis wants to make sure the partnerships strengthened in the battle are kept up.

“We have learned the continuing value of partnerships with other agencies such as the federal (Veterans Administration), Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH), the Alabama National Guard, Alabama Emergency Management Agency, the CDC, and local officials,” Davis said. “We have been grateful for those partnerships and intend to keep them going strongly.”

The coronavirus struck more than the residents of Bill Nichols. COVID-19 also infected 44 staff members, 34 of whom are recovered and back at work.

The state veteran homes began screening all employees and visitors entering the homes March 10. On March 12, the ADVA began its restricted visitation policy to the state veterans homes. On March 26, an employee at Bill Nichols was turned away at the screening point and later tested positive for COVID-19.

Bill Nichols had 143 residents April 1 as the outbreak started. April 8, 94 residents tested postive after all residents in the home were tested for the virus. May 26, 87 veterans were residents of Bill Nichols home. Thursday, Bill Nichols was home to 78 veteran residents.

ADVA said 48 residents never contracted COVID-19.

ADVA spokesperson Robert Horton said ADPH had determined 35 deaths in April and May in Bill Nichols could be attributed to COVID-19. Horton said Bill Nichols is not accepting any new residents at this time. The facility is licensed for 150 beds by ADPH.

State Rep. Ed Oliver (R-Dadeville) said he was proud to see Bill Nichols COVID-19 free.

“I’m delighted,” Oliver said. “It’s what we have been praying for.”

But Oliver believes there is still much to be learned about the outbreak.

“Just because Bill Nichols is COVID free doesn’t take away the need for an afteraction investigation,” Oliver said. “We need to see what recommendations come from the after action to prevent an infectious outbreak in the future. We want to make sure staff has everything they need to be successful in fighting infectious viruses going forward.”

Cliff Williams is a staff writer for Tallapoosa Publishers.