Editor’s Note: The video originally included in this article showed scenes from a facility that is not connected with this story. Those scenes have been removed.
AUSTIN (KXAN) — More than 400 long-term care facilities and nursing homes nationwide have residents who are infected with the coronavirus, according to the CDC. That’s an increase of 172% from numbers reported just over a week ago on March 23.
It’s a frightening trend that’s hitting the Austin area, with four different local facilities reporting confirmed cases of COVID-19 for residents or employees.
- Last week, an employee at Brookdale Senior Living in West Lake Hills tested positive
- This week, a “small group” of residents at Gracy Woods Nursing Center in north Austin tested positive
- Two patients at West Oaks Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in south Austin have tested positive
- An employee of Westminster Senior Living Community in north Austin has tested positive
KXAN reached out to Health and Human Services to get a list of all facilities in the state with confirmed cases. HHSC told KXAN that list was not public information according to state law.
Over the weekend, Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins suggested families consider removing their loved ones from care facilities.
“But for rare circumstances, at this time, your loved one — maybe last month they were better off in the nursing home, but if you can take care of them, they are better off in your home,” Jenkins said.
This week, he clarified his remarks, adding that people with loved ones in a nursing home with a positive COVID-19 case must have that resident test negative before leaving. If the family member is at any other nursing facility in Dallas County, they can take them home without a test, Jenkins said.
KXAN asked city of Austin leaders and health officials if they agree with those guidelines, and have not gotten a response yet.
President of the Texas Assisted Living Association Diana Martinez said she understands the sentiment, but warns most people aren’t prepared for the kind of care these residents need.
“Especially in a skilled nursing [facility], they are there for a reason. There is some underlying issue that might not be able to be cared for properly,” she said.
John Darby with the Texas Organization of Residential Care Homes said he’s most concerned about the nearly 80% of residents with dementia or some sort of memory deficit.
He said CDC guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID-19, while vital, are sometimes at odds with with dementia care guidelines. He argues workers at licensed facilities have training that allows them to implement the new guidelines properly.
Martinez agreed, saying facilities are set up much differently than your home.
“Simple things, like lighting and shadows that can be cast, because some folks with cognitive impairment have severe problems with depth perception,” she explained.
She said the facilities in her group are taking proper precautions, utilizing personal protective equipment (PPE) like masks and gloves, as well as isolation techniques.
“We think that our communities are the safest place for their loved ones at the time.”
Earlier this week, the City of Austin said they would be providing PPE to these facilities.
“Every request/need is evaluated based on what we have available and how great the need is and responded to,” Dr. Liam Fry said in a statement.
Fry leads the Austin Public Health task force for nursing homes.
MORE: Separate Austin facilities will shelter nursing home residents who have COVID-19