A Seattle continuing care retirement community has fired two employees and revised its COVID-19 response protocols with the public health department after the employees falsified their coronavirus test results.

Horizon House went into full quarantine on March 31, according to a Facebook post, at the direction of the Public Health – Seattle & King County after two independent living employees presented positive COVID-19 test results. But the community reopened just one day later after determining that the employees had falsified the test results.

Horizon House CEO Mike Ostrem told McKnight’s Senior Living that having to lock down the community after reopening was “horrifying.”

“It was terribly disruptive to the entire community, especially after 13 months of up and down COVID experiences where you’re on quarantine or not based on positive cases in our community,” Ostrem said. “It was very hard to have this happen just on the heels of the governor opening things up a little more. People were feeling good going into Easter weekend; to have to do this under false pretenses was horrifying.”

According to published reports, the first employee reported having coronavirus symptoms on March 25 following exposure to an infected person outside of work. The employee was tested and reported a positive test result on March 26.

A second employee identified through contact tracing as a close contact reported a positive test on March 30. Both employees were fully vaccinated, according to posts on the community’s website, and both reported experiencing symptoms.

Following protocols, Horizon House notified the Public Health – Seattle & King County, triggering a full quarantine of the community on March 31. The Public Health Department determined on April 1 that the two tests actually were negative. When a Horizon House manager pressed the two employees for further proof of their positive test results, it was revealed that the two had altered and falsified their test result reports.

Employment for both employees was terminated immediately.

Ostrem said that those in the industry rely on the honesty and integrity of their employees. Situations such as this one, he said, highlight when “people don’t sufficiently understand their responsibility and how their behaviors affect others.” 

One thing COVID has done, Ostrem added, is prevented everyone from being in the same room to reinforce values and ethics, and the logic and reasoning behind them, so people understand how their individual actions can affect an entire community.

“We’re trying to spend more time doing that so people are fully aware that individual actions have ramifications,” he said.

Ostrem said that only speculation exists about why the two former employees falsified their test results, and he called their actions “odd.” Public health officials said that they have encountered cases in which individuals who tested positive reported a negative test result to their employers to avoid being “forced off the clock,” he added.

Horizon House has revised its COVID-19 response protocols with the Public Health Department to wait on confirmation of test results before taking action, Ostrem said.

In a statement, Public Health – Seattle & King County officials indicated that the department does not typically verify results before putting infection control recommendations in place, due to delays in receiving COVID-19 test confirmation reports. Department officials called the situation “unusual and unfortunate” and said that one of the individuals had apologized to the department.