Governor Kristi Noem’s 98-year-old grandmother died over the weekend. Arlys Arnold was a resident at the Estelline Nursing Home and Care Center, which now has one of the worst COVID-19 outbreaks and number of recent deaths in the state.

Governor Noem’s office says her grandmother did not test positive for COVID-19.

Gov. Kristi Noem’s Facebook post on death of her grandmother

However, nearly all of its residents have tested positive for the virus.
But it’s the number of recent deaths that has overwhelmed this elderly care facility.

KELOAND’s Angela Kennecke spoke with the Estelline Nursing and Care Center Administrator Mike Ward, who said nine residents have died in the last ten days.

Ward said that they thought they were “untouchable” when they saw COVID-19 tear through skilled care facilities out east and believed that it just couldn’t happen here.

Only now it has and in Ward’s words, “It’s been awful and everyone is on overload.” Ward declined an on-camera interview, saying he is just too upset with the situation.

However, here’s what we’ve learned about the Estelline nursing home outbreak from him.

Estelline Nursing and Care Center, photo courtesy of Facebook

Last year at this time, Estelline’s nursing home was a vibrant place, where children came to sing and residents played games. But the smiles and joy have turned into tears and sorrow.

The facility was COVID-19 free until two weeks ago, when an asymptomatic staff member tested positive on Sept. 9th.

They had 50 some residents. They are down to 42. Out of those residents, 40 have tested positive for COVID-19. 16 staff have also tested positive.

Ward says while they moved the first cases to the facility’s COVID-19 unit, nothing could have prepared them for 18 cases in one day. While the residents were quarantined in their rooms, Ward believes it spread through the building’s ventilation system.

Ward has been working for the nursing home since 1993. He says his employees and people in town have been very supportive, but he’s been discouraged by the lack of mask-wearing in the community and knows it got into the nursing home through community spread.

Ward expects more deaths in the coming days and he told me he is asking everyone to pray for residents, families and staff who are experiencing such anguish and trauma.

Out of the nine deaths in the last ten days, Governor Noem’s grandmother was the only one who tested negative for COVID-19.