Ina’s Beauty Boutique was a regular appointment for ladies in Kansas City and beyond, a tiny shop where the mighty Ina Knox did hair for nearly 40 years.

Her eight children knew papa was a rolling stone, daughter Toni Gayle remembers, but Knox made sure the kids didn’t feel their father’s absence. Gayle describes her mother as “a bear.”

“She has that spirit of a bear, that endurance, you know? That keep-on-pushing,” Gayle said. “My mom’s been through a lot in her life.”

She’s still going through a lot.

Knox, 83, has been living in Riverbend Post Acute Rehabilitation for the last year and a half. She’s one of 116 positive COVID-19 cases clustered at Riverbend, where 19 people have died as of April 16. Ten residents remain hospitalized.

And although she’s been in the hospital at least twice for problems associated with the coronavirus, her doctors keep sending her back to Riverbend.

At least four people who were hospitalized have been returned to the facility since the outbreak began about a month ago, said Cory Schulte, Riverbend’s executive director.

That’s happening across the country as the health care system tries to react to the surge in patients connected with the pandemic, said Dr. David Dosa, an associate professor of medicine and public health at Brown University.

“There is a lot of pressure to move patients through the system,” Dosa said.

“In a perfect world, the argument would be that you shouldn’t necessarily take somebody back unless you’re absolutely certain they are no longer infectious,” he said. “The problem is, with this new virus, we don’t necessarily know how long that takes.”

More residents are expected back soon. Schulte said on Thursday he’d been notified by hospitals that ten patients would be returning to Riverbend.

“We look forward to welcoming them home, and continuing their recovery here,” he said.

Toni Gayle, now 57 and still living in Kansas City, Kansas, had just entered high school when her mother bought the tiny building at North 21st Street and Quindaro Boulevard, back when it was a bustling shopping area.

Ina’s Beauty Boutique quickly earned a good reputation, with Knox being dubbed “the finger-wave queen” for the S-shaped waves that are styled close to the head. Her clients came from the greater Kansas City region, from Lawrence and Wichita, and all the way from Texas, her daughter said.

“Her clientele was word-of-mouth, you know, ‘Girl, who did your hair?’” Gayle said. “That’s how her clientele grew.”

Gayle described her mother, who is Choctaw, African-American and Irish, as tall (5’9”), hard-working and protective of her children. Much like her mother, Gayle said the bear thing runs in the family.

“They make sure their cubs are protected at all times,” she said. “My family is built on that.”

That includes Gayle, who was taking care of her mother when Knox finally retired about four years ago. Gayle is also caring for nine children, including five from her daughter, who was murdered in 2016. Gayle said she needed help and decided to put her mother in Riverbend about a year and a half ago.

In mid-March, about the time Riverbend shut its doors to friends and family due to fears of the virus spreading, Gayle got a call that her mother had a seizure. She was taken to Providence Medical Center, then returned home after a few hours.

Two weeks later, at the end of March, a Riverbend nurse called Gayle and told her that her mother had a cough. Gayle assumed this was because of her seasonal allergies. On either April 2 or 3, Gayle said, she got another call from Riverbend, saying her mother had tested positive for COVID-19 and was being quarantined in her room.

“I know with the privacy act they can’t tell me about anyone else or even what the numbers are. They didn’t tell me about anyone else,” Gayle said. “At that point, I thought it was just my mom.”

According to a report released Thursday, state and Unified Government officials were notified on March 30 of a positive case in the community, which later turned out to be a Riverbend worker. Although they had the results, they couldn’t find the person, the report said.

On April 2, county officials learned that Riverbend patients were positive, because they had been sent to a local hospital, the report said. County officials then contacted Riverbend, which reported they had one employee and one resident who was positive and they were testing 20 residents, the report said.

Gayle ultimately heard about Riverbend’s cluster, the largest in Kansas, from watching the news.

“They make it impossible for you to know this information because they are so tight-lipped,” she said.

Knox was sent back to the AdventHealth Shawnee Mission hospital last week when her oxygen level dropped, Gayle said. She spent a few hours there and was returned to Riverbend.

“My mom lived there,” Gayle said. “That is her residence.”

Saying she feels uncomfortable with having her mother at Riverbend, Gayle plans to move her somewhere else once she is fully recovered. In the meantime, she’s just hopeful about her mother getting better.

“I’m praying. I’m praying,” Gayle said. “I’m staying on the positivity of God.”

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