Has COVID-19 been discovered at Austin State Supported Living Center?

Investigations

AUSTIN (KXAN) — KXAN has received emails from concerned individuals indicating COVID-19 has been discovered at Austin State Supported Living Center, a state operated facility for medically fragile people with developmental disabilities and behavior problems, but state and city health officials would not confirm the information.

The Texas Health and Human Services Commission operates the Austin facility and 12 others statewide. Two of those facilities, one in Denton and another in Richmond, have come under scrutiny after confirmed COVID-19 cases. When KXAN asked if there had been a confirmed COVID-19 case in Austin’s facility, an HHSC spokesperson said the agency is “prohibited by law” from releasing staff and resident health information.

Workers screening entrants at Austin State Supported Living Center on April 8, 2020. (KXAN photo)

“There is no higher priority than protecting the health and safety of residents, staff and the local communities in which our SSLCs are located,” said HHSC spokesperson Christine Mann. “We’re taking every precaution against the spread of disease, including using dedicated homes for individuals recovering from COVID-19. As they return from the hospital, we’re ensuring they receive the care they need in a manner safe for them, other patients and SSLC staff.”

Mann did acknowledge, by citing local health departments, that COVID-19 cases have been confirmed at state-supported living centers in Denton and Richmond facilities. Those outbreaks have also been reported on by the media.

USA Today reported the Denton facility had 50 residents and 39 employees test positive for the virus. The Denton location has 443 residents and 1,460 employees, according that report, and local officials were angry at the facility’s response to spreading infection.

Fort Bend County officials confirmed on March 30 that two residents at a state-supported living facility in Richmond tested positive for COVID-19, and state health officials were investigating, according to a KHOU report.

HHSC referred specific questions about local cases to Austin Public Health. We inquired with APH, which said it would not confirm if there had been a case of COVID-19.

APH spokesperson Jen Samp said APH is “not confirming cases that are not part of a significant outbreak past the ability to contact trace.”

Contact tracing is the process of going back, person by person, and finding each individual who may have been infected.

“If it goes back beyond our ability to contact trace, we would make that public,” Samp said.

Austin officials have confirmed cases in the past. On March 30, Austin Police Chief Brian Manley confirmed a positive COVID-19 case in the police department.

Capital Metro, the city’s public transit operator, has provided several updates on COVID-19 cases among its workers, including that one employee died of the virus.

Mann, with HHSC, said the agency began screening all state supported living center staff on March 5 on whether they had been to, or in contact with a person that had been to, a high-risk county identified by CDC. She said visitation was restricted on March 13.

“We continue to screen all employees for fever and respiratory illness prior to entrance into the facility. Temperature checks on staff and essential visitors before entry into campus began on March 16. Any person with a fever or unexplained signs of respiratory illness are not allowed entrance to the centers,” Mann said. “On any campus in which a resident tests positive for COVID-19, all staff on the campus wear face masks. Additionally, we’re continuing to educate and train staff on infection control procedures. Staff working in homes with COVID-19 positive residents are dedicated to those homes only, using the appropriate personal protective equipment and are following all CDC guidelines to protect their safety and prevent spread. This includes masks, face shield masks, N95 masks, gloves, and gowns.”

You can find more information on the city’s COVID-19 page here.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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