How some long-term care facilities are handling a spike in COVID-19 cases

Coronavirus

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin Public Health said it’s seeing a spike in COVID-19 cases in long-term care facilities.

This week, the agency said that number has gone up from 28 to 188 cases over the past two weeks, most among staff.

They said 29 facilities gave data, and among the 151 staff that tested positive for COVID-19, 35% had a booster shot, and none died or were hospitalized. They said among the 37 resident cases, 75% had a booster dose, and one was hospitalized.

APH tracks cases at each facility on its online dashboard.

“We had a member that experienced an outbreak … In an eight hour period they went from 20 available workers down to six,” said John Darby, Texas Organization of Residential Care Homes (TORCH) president.

TORCH’s members are all small assisted living facilities between four to 16 beds, licensed by the state.

He said some facilities are now asking families to comply with some extra precautions but can’t require them to do so, due to new rules.

The bottom line is facilities, whether they follow state or federal guidelines, cannot refuse visitors.

Darby said state rules for assisted living facilities went into effect in August. The rules indicate those facilities must screen everyone who enters and can ask visitors about their COVID-19 vaccination status but can’t require proof or use it to deny entry.

“Based on the state rules, if somebody tests positive, they’re still allowed to come visit, and so then you’ll just see, you know, increased protocols, where maybe that’s an outdoor visit,” Darby said.

The same is true for nursing homes, according to federal guidelines updated in November, recommending visitors who test positive, have symptoms or meet the criteria for quarantine shouldn’t enter the facility but not banning them from doing so.

“Visitation is now allowed for all residents at all times,” the federal guideline states, even during an outbreak.

It’s a far cry from the rules during the previous COVID-19 surges, when long-term care facilities were allowed to limit how many visitors could enter and even how long they could be there.

Frieda Sauls wasn’t able to enter her father’s nursing home in the winter of 2020 and said she’d meet him for his doctor’s appointments, bearing gifts.

Frieda Sauls thinks her father was affected by a no-visitors rule at his nursing home during the pandemic in December 2020. Before that, Sauls said she would visit everyday. (Courtesy: Frieda Sauls)
Frieda Sauls thinks her father was affected by a no-visitors rule at his nursing home during the pandemic in December 2020. Before that, Sauls said she would visit everyday. (Courtesy: Frieda Sauls)

“He loved the chopped beef sandwiches. He loved barbecue, and I would always get dad Starbucks coffee,” Sauls said.

Although she supports COVID-19 safety measures, Sauls said she wishes current visitor rules were in place at that time.

“Sometimes he would forget and wonder why I didn’t come, you know, ‘What — why didn’t you come yesterday?’ … And I had to remind him about the virus,” she said.

She and her sister would watch him on a camera they installed in his room until he died of COVID-19 that December.

“I miss seeing him on the camera,” she said.

Darby said to manage the current surge, some of his member facilities are asking for families to make adjustments voluntarily, like delaying visits.

“The facility might ask that hey, if we had an extra week to get a little further into the outbreak to get some some residents and some staff clear, would I mind skipping this Saturday and coming to see her next Saturday?” he said.

Sauls is still keeping her compassion alive for helping older Austinites, like her dad.

She’s now gathering donations for nursing home residents.

“Pajamas and blankets and socks and word search books, things to give to them to let them know that they matter,” she said.

If you’d like to contribute, you can email Sauls at elderlylivesdomatter2@gmail.com.

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