The Roseburg Veterans Affairs Medical Center issued a response Monday to a leaked video showing Director Keith Allen and other VA employees dancing in close proximity to each other and without masks.

A spokesman said Monday the “VA realizes the importance of social distancing during this national emergency and will reiterate that to all employees involved.”

The Oregonian first reported Saturday that VA employees had shared a video of the staff members dancing with them. In the video, a group of about 16 people dance to Neil Diamond’s song “Sweet Caroline.”

Only one of the 16 was wearing a mask, and she removed it partway through the dance.

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Keith Allen, director of the Roseburg Veteran Affairs Medical Center, is pictured in his office in June 2019. An internal video obtained by The Oregonian shows Allen leading a coronavirus dance party with other employees. None of them consistently wearing protective equipment or maintaining social distance.

The News-Review earlier reported that four VA staff members had contracted COVID-19. One of them was so severely ill he was transported to a Portland hospital and placed on a ventilator.

“This video was made in an administrative, non-clinical area where PPE is not required,” VA spokesman Tim Parish said in an email. “All staff who participated were volunteers and had been properly screened, per CDC and VA guidelines.”

He also wrote that the Roseburg VA “takes its responsibility to protect Veterans and employees seriously, a fact that’s underscored by the facility’s .3% COVID-19 employee infection rate.”

Health officials say COVID-19 can be transmitted by patients who are not displaying symptoms, and it is transmitted through the air with a range of at least 6 feet.

The VA serves veteran patients, many of whom are at high risk if they contract the disease because they are seniors or have underlying conditions.

U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Springfield, said Monday that the dance video was “totally inappropriate.” He said he complained both to Allen and to the regional network about the dance.

“I have no idea what that guy was thinking,” DeFazio said.

He said he understands it’s important to build morale, but he said he builds morale safely, with things like Zoom chats where people drink beer together virtually rather than visiting their usual spot in Eugene.

“So there are ways he could have had a fun time for these people without doing that,” DeFazio said.

In an email sent privately to community leaders Monday and leaked to The News-Review, Allen struck a more conciliatory tone.

“I would like to begin with an apology if this video offended anyone, it was not a dance party. It was meant to bring a small amount of stress relief and happiness to the Staff at the Roseburg VA Pathology and Laboratory Department,” Allen wrote.

He said the group was dancing to honor lab staff, who he called “unsung heroes,” during National Laboratory Technician Week.

He said he would work with his staff to find safer ways to stay connected.

“At no time have I forgotten any of the staff or Veterans that have become infected by this virus,” Allen wrote. “I hold each and every one of them in my thoughts and prayers.”

Reporter Carisa Cegavske can be reached at ccegavske@nrtoday.com or 541-957-4213.

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Senior Reporter

Carisa Cegavske is the senior reporter for The News-Review. She can be reached at ccegavske@nrtoday.com or 541-957-4213. Follow her on Twitter @carisa_cegavske

(2) comments

CitizenJoe

"Thoughts and prayers" don't work. Actual thought and protective equipment do work. Jeeze.

Mike

Roseburg's VA is the headline example in an news article about the increasing number of VA patients and staff nationwide infected with COVID-19. It questioned what appears in Roseburg to be a flagrant violation of the state and federal protocols designed to limit spread of the disease.

According to the article, Roseburg's VA has 4 confirmed cases of coronavirus. A spokesperson for the Roseburg VA could not be reached for comment.

https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/us/roseburg-va-director-leads-coronavirus-dance-party-without-social-distancing-face-masks/ar-BB13d04B

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