With news that a novel coronavirus outbreak in a Seattle-area nursing home killed five residents and that the four other Americans who have died from the disease are all Washingtonians older than 50, many facilities serving seniors in Spokane quickly adopted federal protocols while awaiting additional guidance from local public health officials.
Some also took it upon themselves to discuss harsher restrictions sooner rather than later.
Health officials say coronavirus is more dangerous for people with underlying health conditions and those over the age of 60. The majority of people will have mild symptoms, but some will experience severe illness requiring hospitalization.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued guidelines for long-term care facilities that include educating staff and residents about disease prevention efforts, ensuring respiratory and hand hygiene supplies are readily available, posting signs at entrances instructing visitors not to enter if they have symptoms of respiratory illness, and isolating residents with fever or respiratory infection symptoms. Additionally, the guidelines note having sick leave policies to allow employees with symptoms to stay home.
Those guidelines also have an important caveat: once a coronavirus transmission is detected in a community, the CDC advises long-term care facilities to consult local public health officials for additional guidance.
Eastern Washington has no confirmed cases of coronavirus, but test results for people in Spokane, Stevens and Grant counties are pending.
Life Care Center in Kirkland, where five residents have died and several others have been hospitalized due to coronavirus, is not allowing family members, volunteers or vendors to enter the facility while it places symptomatic residents in isolation and screens employees before and after work.
Life Care Centers of America, which owns more than 200 facilities, also operates the skilled nursing facility Alderwood Manor in east Spokane, as well as centers in Post Falls, Coeur d’Alene and Sandpoint.
A spokesperson for the company said Tuesday it was not releasing information about disease prevention efforts at its facilities besides a statement about the Kirkland center. A statement on the Spokane facility’s site did not include any additional information.
Administrators at Riverview Retirement Community, which has nearly 400 units, were in the middle of a meeting Tuesday afternoon to evaluate potential measures like restricting visitation to the facility, according to a staff member. Administrators did not immediately return a message regarding any decisions made during that meeting.
Touchmark on South Hill – another of Spokane’s largest retirement homes with more than 300 units, according to the Spokane Journal of Business – announced it was taking proactive steps to prevent the spread of disease despite having no cases identified.
In the time since a flu and coronavirus update from a infection control expert in mid-February, the company has sent notices to all staff to enhance cleaning of high-use areas and post signs at entrances to ask visitors who are feeling ill to postpone their visits, according to a statement. The Spokane facility said health services personnel were also closely monitoring residents and staff for symptoms of illness, in addition to other measures.
“We are closely following all guidelines posted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and working with all our state and local health departments,” Touchmark on South Hill Executive Director Randy Perras said in a statement. “We are continuing to update our protocol and precautions based on the latest recommendations from governmental agencies.”
Brookdale Park Place, which has almost 200 units in Spokane Valley, said it was following CDC guidance in a statement. Some of those measures included reminders about flu vaccines, hand hygiene and staying home when sick. Brookdale also has an emergency response team in place to assist local facilities in the event of a confirmed coronavirus case in a resident.
Administrators from Rockwood South Hill, Fairwood Retirement Village and Orchard Crest Retirement Community did not immediately return requests for comment.
Some local community centers, as well as Meals On Wheels Spokane, took precautionary measures amid the coronavirus outbreak due to the number of seniors they serve.
Southside Community Center has made hand sanitizer widely available around the center, focused cleaning on high-traffic areas and posted signs on entrances and classrooms doors with CDC guidelines, according to programs and rental coordinator Jan Suhr. She said the center mostly serves retirees and has posted signage about staying home with illnesses.
“We’re just keeping our areas clean and our members safe,” said Suhr, who noted that the center had 14 events on Tuesday and some with maxed out attendance at 25 people. “There’s no fear as far as I can see here. We are taking steps, making sure people are prepared.”
Spokane Valley Senior Center recreation specialist Kendall May said the center had additional hand sanitation stations set up at the facility and was working with the city of Spokane Valley on a disease-prevention plan Tuesday afternoon.
Meals On Wheels Spokane is encouraging volunteers and staff who deliver meals to seniors or interact with the elderly at the Mid-City Concerns Senior Center to stay home if they have symptoms of illness, according to development director Sarah Hall. The Meals On Wheels Spokane facility, which is the site for delivery pickups and the senior center, is adopting CDC advice by having hand sanitizer at every entrance and signs with public health advice. Hall said staff are ensuring volunteers picking up meals also have hand sanitizer, focusing on daily disinfecting around the facility and preparing to call backup meal deliverers.
Through its facility, Meals On Wheels Spokane serves more than 450 meals to seniors at the center and homebound elderly each day, according to the organization website.
Hall said staff are working to “to keep it business as usual as much as possible for the seniors,” who seem to be in good spirits and not worried.
“We’re just paying attention, waiting for new advice,” Hall said. “We’re just hoping for the best.”
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