Bonnie Heinrich counted the days.
Nearly a year ago, when Fairwinds Spokane, an assisted and independent living facility, went on lockdown along with all facilities statewide, Heinrich counted 70 days when residents were confined to their apartments, save a walk in the hallway, from mid-March to May.
The scene in the Fairwinds lobby in north Spokane on Feb. 1 stood in bright contrast to those long lockdown days.
Champagne was pouring, and although residents still had masks on, the mood was relaxed as residents chatted with each other, waiting for the 15 minutes to monitor for adverse reactions following their second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
The vast majority of the 160 residents at Fairwinds are now fully vaccinated against COVID-19, a welcome relief after a year of restrictions, albeit necessary, to keep the virus from spreading indoors.
The federal government rolled out vaccines to long-term care facilities nationwide through a partnership with Walgreens and CVS, which began administering vaccine doses in late December.
More than a month after the federal pharmacy program began, residents and staff members at 1,860 of the 2,019 facilities enrolled in either the CVS or Walgreens program in Washington state have received at least the first dose of the vaccine, according to public data from the pharmacy chains.
Walgreens has completed two vaccine clinics at all 87 skilled nursing facilities in the state that signed up for the program. Walgreens has also completed first-dose clinics at 1,161 assisted living facilities that opted into the program. The pharmacy is 31% complete with second-dose clinics for these facilities.
Walgreens has slightly fewer than 200 clinics scheduled for the next week.
CVS, which administered the program at Fairwinds, has completed all first-dose clinics at 112 skilled nursing facilities in Washington and is 93% complete with second-dose clinics in nursing homes.
There are 659 assisted living and other facilities enrolled with CVS statewide, and 500 of those facilities have received first doses as of Feb. 16, leaving about 160 facilities waiting for first-dose clinics in this program.
Fairwinds Spokane is operated by Leisure Care, a Seattle-based retirement community company that runs facilities nationwide.
Leisure Care used its corporate spending power to secure much-needed PPE and testing very early in the pandemic, operations director Holli Korb said. Korb said there was testing available for staff in Spokane as early as April, due to a contract secured with a testing company that provided results within 24 hours.
Rapid testing from the federal government for facilities would not come along until the summer.
The extra investment in protective equipment and testing early appeared to pay off, and Heinrich said she and others who live there know this.
“They took such good care of us,” said Heinrich, who has lived in her apartment at Fairwinds for five years.
The first resident tested positive for COVID-19 in October, and only four have tested positive so far. None of those infections warranted hospitalization, and residents were treated on-site by caregivers and recovered. Fairwinds offers independent and assisted living, all in individual apartments.
Korb said 11 staff members tested positive, often even before they were symptomatic, after they were screened during weekly testing.
“It was able to stop outbreaks, I believe, before they happened,” Korb said.
Not all facilities in Spokane County have been as fortunate. State data show that more than 2,000 COVID-19 cases and 299 deaths due to COVID-19 have been tied to long-term care facilities in the county. Deaths connected to long-term care facility outbreaks account for 50% or more than 2,200 of the COVID-19 deaths recorded in Washington state.
When long-term care facilities nationwide were offered sign-up opportunities for a federal vaccination program last fall, Korb said Leisure Care signed all of its communities up quickly. She thinks, as a result, Fairwinds Spokane might have been one of the first facilities to get the vaccine in the county.
On Jan. 11, Fairwinds Spokane had its first vaccine clinic. The majority of the 160 residents received the vaccine, and about 70% of the staff as well, Korb said.
On Feb. 1, some residents and staff members who missed the first clinic were able to receive their first dose, and CVS staff will be back for a third clinic in three weeks. Both Walgreens and CVS are offering additional clinics to facilities through their programs.
While there are 2,019 long-term care facilities enrolled with either Walgreens or CVS to get their residents and staff vaccinated, some facilities, including adult family homes, missed out on signing up for the program. Locally, the Spokane Regional Health District is working to fill those gaps.
In Spokane County, 108 adult family homes and 18 assisted-living facilities in Spokane County had not enrolled in the federal vaccine program, according to the Spokane Regional Health District. Of those 126 facilities, the district determined that only 49 of those facilities have not yet received vaccine, however.
Many facilities had partnered with local pharmacies or health care providers to get doses to their residents and staff. As of Tuesday, the health district has reached out to all 49 facilities that still need vaccines.
The district wants to get first doses to facilities by Monday, according to Kelli Hawkins, public information officer at the district.
As of Tuesday, the district has conducted clinics at 19 facilities, with help from Nursing Services Mobile, the Medical Reserve Corps and volunteers from Providence. The district has also contracted with InMotion Imaging to run some of the clinics.
Despite some facilities being fully vaccinated, state guidance for reopening to allow more visitors or less stringent quarantine guidelines are still dependent on virus activity in the county or region where the facility is located.
All facilities in Spokane County are in Phase 1 of the state guidance and will not be allowed to move into Phase 2 until case rates decline to 75 cases per 100,000 people. Spokane County’s two-week case rate is 268 cases per 100,000 residents.
In Phase 1 of the long-term care guidance for assisted living facilities, only essential health care personnel and beauticians or barbers are allowed indoors, but by Phase 2, some nonessential visitors are allowed indoors.
Despite a slow reopening ahead, residents at Fairwinds were relieved to be vaccinated.
Heinrich, who has beaten three different types of cancer, seemed unfazed after receiving her second shot on Feb. 1. She said the 70-day lockdown took a toll on some of her friends and other residents, but the vaccine marks the beginning of the end of a pandemic.
“Most of us bounced out,” she said. “Let the cork out, and let’s play.”
Arielle Dreher's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is funded in part by Report for America and by members of the Spokane community. This story can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe to the Coronavirus newsletter
Get the day’s latest Coronavirus news delivered to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter.