Eight nuns die within one week due to Covid-19 at the Wisconsin convent

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Eight nuns living at a retirement home for sisters in suburban Milwaukee have died of COVID-19 in the last week, a grim reminder of how quickly the virus can spread in congregate living situations, even when precautions are taken.

 Four of them passed away on the same day.

Notre Dame of Elm Grove had been free of the virus for the last nine months, but the congregation that runs the home found out on Thanksgiving Day that one of the roughly 100 sisters who live there had tested positive.

Despite social distancing and other mitigation efforts that were already in place, several more positive tests followed, said Sister Debra Marie Sciano, the provincial leader for School Sisters of Notre Dame Central Pacific Province.

The first death happened last week, and the death announcements kept coming. Four of the eight nuns died on Monday alone, a difficult situation for other sisters in the home and members of the broader congregation, who consider each other family.

“Even though they’re older and most of the sisters that did go to God are in their late 80s, 90s … we didn’t expect them to go so, so quickly,” Sciano said. “So it was just very difficult for us.”

Sciano said the congregation isolated sisters who tested positive into the same area so they would have no contact with others. They are advised to stay in their rooms, where meals are brought to them.

Sciano declined to say how many other sisters have tested positive, citing the residents’ privacy.

Sister Dorothy MacIntyre, 88, died on December 11 and Sister Mary Alexius Portz, 96, passed away on Sunday, according to the congregation’s website.

Sisters Cynthia Borman, Joan Emily Kaul, Lillia Langreck and Michael Marie Laux all died on Monday.

Convents share some of the same issues as nursing homes, which are the hardest-hit sector in the U.S. in terms of COVID-19 deaths. In many cases, their populations are elderly and live in close quarters with one another.

Linda Wickstrom, spokeswoman for the Waukesha County Department of Health & Human Services said county disease investigators have been working with the facility since School Sisters of Notre Dame contacted them in November.

“Given the extreme contagiousness of this virus, it is exceedingly important for congregate settings to practice basic protocols to stop the spread of the disease,” Wickstrom said.