As health leaders warn of a potentially dangerous fall and winter that could lead to new cases of COVID-19, recent outbreaks at long-term care facilities in Palo Alto highlight how difficult controlling the coronavirus can be.
Channing House has had 13 COVID-19 cases in the past two weeks: six cases among residents and seven among staff, CEO and Executive Director Rhonda Bekkedahl confirmed on Oct. 1. In total, 10 residents and 17 staff members have tested positive for the virus since the pandemic began. One contracted caregiver also tested positive. The cases are all in the assisted-living section, Bekkedahl said in an email.
The long-term care facility isn't the only one with cases. Vi at Palo Alto and Palo Alto Commons also had cases within the past 14 days, according to data posted on a Santa Clara County Public Health Department public dashboard.
Bekkedahl said Channing House Health Center staff, which includes assisted living and skilled nursing, are currently tested weekly for the virus while other staff receive tests on a monthly basis. All residents are tested at least monthly. Outside caregivers also follow the Channing House testing schedule.
Channing House also doesn't allow indoor visits at its facilities except in end-of-life situations, she said. Staff encourages outdoor visits and provides support in scheduling and facilitating meetings over Zoom and other video conferencing platforms with family and friends, according to Bekkedahl.
"The health and safety of the Channing House residents and staff are our top priority," Bekkedahl said. As soon as the pandemic began, staff implemented multiple, "stringent" measures for health screenings, cleaning and disinfection, Channing House has also enforced a face coverings requirement across the facility and installed more hand-washing and hand sanitizer stations.
"In addition, we have dedicated staff caring for any Covid-positive residents in a Covid-wing, which is physically separate from all other units. We are testing regularly and receive prompt results from our contracted lab," Bekkedahl added. The staff, which includes a full-time infection prevention specialist and a safety director, regularly consults with their medical director and a nurse from the county Public Health Department.
Channing House is also conducting contact tracing of residents and staff who might have crossed paths within their facilities. The Public Health Department provides advice and is doing contact tracing outside of Channing House, Bekkedahl said.
The facility follows local guidelines for quarantining any positive cases of COVID-19, which is 14 days from the date of a positive test result or seven days after the last symptom, Bekkedahl said.
Among other Palo Alto facilities, Lytton Gardens had three cases among residents in early and mid-September. As of Oct. 6, all but one of the residents have fully recovered and the other two are doing well, according to Mary McMullin, chief strategy and advancement officer at Covia Communities, Lytton Gardens' parent company.
"We have done two rounds of resident testing — all have negative results. The first round of staff testing had negative results and the second round of staff testing happened today at 2:30 p.m," she said in an email.
In the past 14 days, Vi Palo Alto had fewer than 11 cases among staff and Palo Alto Commons had fewer than 11 cases among residents, according to data reported by the county on Tuesday.
The Public Health Department declined to state how many cases specifically are at long-term care facilities. They said when a facility has less than 11 cases they don't release the exact number due to "patient privacy."
Sophia Lucas, a spokeswoman for WellQuest Living, which operates Palo Alto Commons, declined to discuss the number of COVID-19 cases at the facility. John Koselak, executive director at Vi at Palo Alto did not return a request for comment as of late Tuesday afternoon.
The county's public dashboard is also somewhat misleading regarding the number of caregivers who have tested positive at a facility. A spokesperson for the Public Health Department said in an email that the dashboard reflects cases reported by facilities to the county, but the county's accounting of staff cases does not appear to include all of the caregivers who test positive.
"Here in our county and across the state, public health departments track cases among residents of their county, and like others, this dashboard reflects cases only among residents of the county," the spokesperson said.
Find comprehensive coverage on the Midpeninsula's response to the new coronavirus by Palo Alto Online, the Mountain View Voice and the Almanac here.