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O.C. Nursing Homes Are Latest Coronavirus Hot Spot

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The following article was originally published April 24, 2020, and republished through a collaboration with KPCC and LAist.

Story by Jackie Fortier

The coronavirus has spread through five nursing homes in Orange County in recent days, killing at least two residents and sending dozens to the hospital. As of Friday, there have been 130 confirmed cases among residents and 87 among staff.

But while L.A. County is now requiring nursing homes to test all residents and staff regardless of whether they have symptoms, Orange County is not going that far.

Orange County Health Officer Dr. Nichole Quick insisted Thursday that the county is testing nursing home staff and residents who need to be tested.

"If there's potential contact with a case, or if there's staff moving between that are symptomatic, those residents are tested," Quick told a news conference.

If a nursing home has multiple buildings, investigators may test staff only in the building with the positive case, she said.

"So when we have an outbreak our highly trained medical professionals go out, make an assessment, determine who needs to be tested, who is symptomatic and that involves talking to all of the residents and looking at them," Quick said.

When asked Friday if Orange County is considering requiring asymptomatic testing in all skilled nursing facilities, the county CEO's office responded with a statement that read in part, "we will require testing of all residents when there is any evidence of spread in the facility."

Warning notices are posted on a door at the Cedar Mountain Post Acute nursing facility in Yucaipa, after a COVID-19 outbreak there. | Chris Carlson/AP
Warning notices are posted on a door at the Cedar Mountain Post Acute nursing facility in Yucaipa, after a COVID-19 outbreak there. | Chris Carlson/AP, by tedgar

'WELL, ACTUALLY WE HAVE' BEEN EXPOSED

Nursing homes have become major coronavirus hot zones.

Statewide, more than 5,000 nursing home residents and staff have tested positive for the coronavirus as of Friday. There have been 497 deaths, 486 among residents, and 11 among staff.

L.A. County Public Health Director Dr. Barbara Ferrer announced Friday that nursing homes must now test all staff and residents and that her department will work with each facility to determine how often that happens.

Also on Friday, L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti said he's ordering monthly testing for all staff and residents of skilled nursing facilities within the city limits.

In Orange County, Sea Cliff Healthcare Center in Huntington Beach is one of the nursing homes with an outbreak. Resident Lori South said she hasn't been tested for the virus and that when she has asked, nursing home administrators tell her she hadn't been directly exposed.

"I'm like, well, actually we have," she said. "There are nurses working with us that are also working with COVID patients, so isn't that a direct exposure?"

South said a quarantine area had been established at Sea Cliff after COVID-19 patients were identified, but some staff were working across areas.

"Somebody didn't show up, so [a nurse] had to work the floor and the night before she had worked in the quarantine area," South said.

STAFF ARE 'FOLLOWING APPLICABLE GUIDANCE'

In an email, Sea Cliff Assistant Administrator John Money said the staff has been appropriately trained on the use of personal protective equipment in the delivery of care to COVID-19 positive patients.

"[Staff] are not moving between positive and non-positive residents wearing the same PPE, and are following applicable guidance with respect to donning and doffing PPE, handwashing, use of hand sanitizer, and related infection prevention measures," Money wrote.

South said no one from the county or state has examined or spoken to her about potential COVID-19 symptoms, even though she's living in a nursing home with an outbreak.

"They were finally here for the first time today," she said Thursday. "I didn't see them talk to a single resident."

Researchers have found that it can take 14 days for someone who is exposed to the coronavirus to develop symptoms, meaning health care workers could be spreading the virus even if they feel healthy.

UPDATES:

5:37 p.m.: This article was updated to include Mayor Garcetti's order about testing.

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