On Monday, January 4th, Jared McEwen was working at The Fusion Rehab and Wellness clinic’s Fredericksburg location. About halfway through his shift, he began to feel ill. He left the clinic and immediately went to seek medical attention.
It was a short time later that he had received the news. He had tested positive for Covid-19. “It was humbling.” McEwen said. “I thought I would be the last person to get Covid.”
Fusion management was immediately notified of his diagnosis which set their Covid policy into action. They immediately began contact tracing anyone who had close contact with McEwen in the past 14 days. Close contact in the policy is described as within 6 feet for a total of 15 minutes or more OR had direct respiratory exposure to respiratory excretions.
Through contact tracing it was found that Jamie Banks, a physical therapy technician at the Fredericksburg clinic and Ashley Rolley, the Clinic Director at Fusion’s Lee’s Hill Clinic had been in contact with McEwen the previous weekend. Both Banks and Rolley left work immediately.
By early Monday afternoon, patients at both clinics were called to let them know about the possible exposure. Up until McEwen’s case, Fusion had a track record of zero positive cases or transfers in the clinic. Patients were concerned and asked if the clinics would be shut down.
Fusion owner Dr Travis Stoner conferred with his management team and the decision was made to close the Fredericksburg and Lee’s Hill clinics. Patients from either clinic still had the option to be seen either in person at Fusion’s Spotsylvania location or by their therapists from the other closed clinics via telehealth appointments.
When asked what the deciding factor was for closing two clinics, Dr. Stoner replied “Fear over science. We have been taking all the precautions outlined in compliance with CDC regulations so that in the case of a positive case, we would not have to shut down because no one would meet the close contact requirements of a required quarantine. Masks were being worn, distances were at least 6 feet, but when calling the patients about the potential exposure (not close contact) they could not understand why we weren’t shut down. To cater to the fear over this pandemic, the upper management decided collectively it would be in the best interest of the company to follow the close contact protocol and quarantine for 7 days with testing on the 5th day at the earliest.”
As it would happen, both Banks and Rolley tested positive for the Coronavirus as well. Describing her feeling after learning of her diagnosis, Banks said she was at first shocked.
“I was feeling all different emotions. Scared, upset, angry with myself, worried. I was worried I exposed others and I was also worried I would expose my daughter as well.”
Rolley got her results a day later. “Honestly,” she said, “I cried. I was super hard on myself. I spent the pandemic being super cautious, wearing a mask, online grocery shopping, not going into restaurants. Ten months into it, feeling like I was invincible, I made one poor decision and I got COVID!”
Both affected clinics were closed for a week. Deep cleanings were performed. For the first time since the start of the pandemic, Fusion had to completely close two of its clinics.
The fear of his business closing was always something on Dr. Stoner’s mind. “When Virginia first shut down, I felt out of control of my own future. I was suddenly hinging on every new executive order just waiting to see if the government would decide to shut us down without any assistance or knowing how to pay my employees or even my own bills. My wife and I had to have some very hard discussions on what bankruptcy would look like and how and when to do it. We had to cut off a lot of projects and expansions we had planned. I spent countless hours and late nights while everyone else slept researching the virus, policies to keep my employees and my patients safe, and make sure we were staying in compliance with the ever-changing landscape of recommendations.”
Rolley “felt absolutely terrible that the amazing small business I work for would lose so much revenue during that week, when we worked so hard the first 10 months to ensure our clinics were safe and running smoothly.”
McEwen remembers when he first heard two clinics were being shut down. “I felt horrible that I cost the company a lot of lost revenue and I had exposed my co-workers.”
McEwen, Banks and Rolley quarantined for two weeks, dealing with symptoms that ranged from headaches, sinus pressure, congestion, loss of smell, fatigue and coughing. All three said they felt better after about three days, yet out of an abundance of safety and caution remained in their homes for the duration.
The employees from the two closed clinics remained at home until Friday, January 8th, when each one received a Covid test. Every test came back negative.
With many of his employees out of work, Dr. Stoner responded “we are affording each employee up to 80 hours of COVID sick leave. We cannot fault our employees and deny them pay just because they have been victimized by this virus. Every employee that we have had was paid for any time off related to a COVID potential exposure.”
On Monday, January 11th, the Fredericksburg and Lee’s Hill clinics had reopened their doors and welcomed their patients back. McEwen, Banks and Rolley would go back to work the following week. The story doesn’t end there.
The plasma in a person’s blood who has fully recovered from the Coronavirus may contain Covid-19 antibodies that can attack the virus. The American Red Cross states on its website that the convalescent plasma is being evaluated as a possible treatment for currently ill Covid-19 patients.
This prompted McEwen, Banks and Rolley into action. Wanting to give back to their community, they made an appointment for Wednesday, February 17th to donate their plasma.
“Plain and simple, I wanted to give back to the community,” Rolley stated. “I was so fortunate that my symptoms were mild, and many are not. If my plasma can help cure even one person, I will finally feel better about making one poor judgment call and getting Covid.”
Rolley’s sentiments were shared by McEwen and Banks. When Dr. Stoner found out about their decision, he was delighted. “Donating plasma takes 2-3 hours, a large chunk of the day. The fact that these three employees are willing to take that time out of their schedules to donate plasma so that those that are the sickest from this virus have a higher chance of recovery truly warms my heart. I think it goes to show what kind of people they are, that they don’t just care about the community as long as the community is paying them, but actually volunteer their time and their actual blood to help their community.”
The Fusion Rehab and Wellness staff think of themselves, their patients and community as a family. As Dr. Stoner admits “I’m very proud of all of the staff at fusion for adhering and adapting to the changes that COVID-19 has brought us. Together we have all made a great team that has persevered through this so far and it has made us all closer than ever.”
Written by: Craig Repanshek