By Nicole Montesano • Staff Writer • 

COVID-19 outbreaks flare at McMinnville care centers

Life Care Center of McMinnville, a skilled nursing facility that provides long-term and dementia care, has reported five cases among residents, and two among its staff.

The center, in a text to family members, said all so far have been asymptomatic, and that, following state guidelines, it is testing everyone weekly, and will continue to do so until all tests are negative. The center did not respond to a request for comment by press time.

At Rock of Ages in McMinnville, two residents died amid an outbreak among 26 residents and staff.

Admission and visitation are restricted at Life Care Center and Rock of Ages, by state order. Brookdale-Hillside, where state-ordered restrictions were dropped on Aug. 10, has cases among staff, but not residents.

Fircrest Assisted Living in McMinnville had two cases of COVID-19 among residents of its assisted living section, but has not had any cases among staff as of Monday.

Beth Jones, executive director at Fircrest, said the executive order restricting admission was lifted for her facility last Thursday.

Two residents who tested positive remain hospitalized, but there are no active cases at the facility, which also operates a memory care center, Jones said.

Last week, all Fircrest residents and staff tested negative, she said.

“It’s definitely been, in my 18 years working in long-term care, this has been the most trying,” Jones said.

Fircrest continues to monitor the temperatures of staff and residents and has its workers complete questionnaires before they enter the building.

Staff members who run a temperature or have symptoms are asked to leave and be tested, and remain home until their test results come back negative, while residents are isolated in their rooms and tested, she said.

Jones said her staff has volunteered to work extra shifts when someone is sent home and have been diligent about wearing protective gear even in hot weather. Several have volunteered to work among infected patients, should the facility see a larger outbreak, she said.

“The staff has been amazing,” she said.

To safeguard residents, Fircrest has set up “window visits,” where residents and families can speak on the telephone, while seeing each other through a window, “to be able to lay eyes on them, so they know that people are OK,” Jones said.

Most residents have been following the center’s request not to leave the facility, except for medical appointments, she said.

She said the rapid rise in local cases has been alarming.

“It’s scary when you see those numbers in Yamhill County, and you know that your staff are going home, and going to Walmart and the grocery store. They’re quarantining as much as they can to stay safe, but it’s still scary,” she said.

She urged the community to be mindful of the danger the disease poses.

“Just continue to be safe. It’s bigger than just you, and your actions can affect a lot of people who are a lot more vulnerable than you,” Jones said.

Brookdale-Hillside states on its website that it is “proactively testing all residents and associates,” and checking residents’ temperatures and oxygen levels.

To help residents cope with feelings of isolation, it is providing virtual visits, social events and educational classes, as well as supplying residents with access to apps such as Skype and Zoom, and has developed protocols for outdoor visitation, where allowed.

Elisa Williams, spokeswoman for the state Office of Aging and People with Disabilities, which oversees long-term care facilities, said that staff from the state Department of Human Services visit all care homes with reported cases weekly, and more often if needed.

“After being notified of a first case, local public health will also begin to interact with the facility and advise them on infection control,” Williams said.

When a facility has three or more cases, “coordinated oversight from DHS, OHA and local public health agencies” is enacted “to evaluate if the facility is practicing proper infection control and has adequate staff and personal protective equipment,” Williams said.

In addition, the state has “contracted surge capacity facilities — a function previously filled by emergency health care centers — to provide bed capacity,” Williams said.

This maintains a place where COVID-19 patients may recover, allowing a facility with an outbreak to decrease its caseload. “Surge capacity facilities are also an option to assist facilities with staffing shortages, she said.

County Health and Human Services Director Lindsey Manfrin did not return a call for comment by press time.

Although state officials have said the disease has started slowing slightly statewide, it continues to ramp up in Yamhill County, with 21 new cases reported Friday. By Monday, Yamhill County had added another 21 new cases, for a total of 523 cases. Of those, 259 are in McMinnville and 127 in Newberg.

There have been 13 deaths in the county.

Statewide, there were 664 new cases reported over the weekend, along with three new deaths. There were another 192 cases on Monday, bringing the state’s totals to 23,451 cases of the disease and 388 deaths.

Children and teenagers comprise the largest number of cases of any age group in Yamhill County — 106, as of Monday.

The state announced antibody testing for indications of past exposure to the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 showed about 1% of Oregonians had antibodies, indicating that “a ‘substantial’ proportion of Oregon residents have undiagnosed and unreported infection from COVID-19.”

The samples were collected mid-June from 19 health care facilities around the state.

The first case of COVID-19 in Oregon was diagnosed Feb. 28, the OHA noted.

“Through May 31, 4,243 people in Oregon, or about one of every 1,000 people, had tested positive for COVID-19. Because this rate doesn’t account for people who were infected, but did not seek testing — such as those with mild or no symptoms, or people unable to access testing -- the rate is believed to be lower than the state’s actual infection count,” OHA said.

Dr. Paul Cieslak, OHA’s medical director for communicable diseases and immunizations, said officials suspected “a much larger segment of Oregon’s population has been exposed to and infected with COVID-19 than traditional diagnostic testing show.”

Study results confirmed that suspicion, but these results “also tell us that the great majority of Oregonians remain susceptible to this virus,” he said.

“We don’t know if antibodies to COVID-19 mean you are protected, so you still need to wear a face covering, maintain physical distancing, and keep washing your hands.”

Also on Friday, Gov. Kate Brown released guidelines for masks for office workers.

The order requires face coverings in public and private building hallways, bathrooms, elevators, lobbies, break rooms, and other common spaces, unless employees are at individual work spaces or in meeting rooms where 6 feet of distance from other people can be maintained.

The revised guidance also allows for the brief removal of face coverings in situations where someone’s identity needs to be confirmed for visual comparison, such as interactions in banks or with law enforcement.

[Updated to correct state order for Brookdale-Hillside. It was lifted Aug. 10, the center said.]


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