The coronavirus continues to spread here in the U.S. and abroad as health agencies across the globe race to contain infected patients. In the last few days, new cases have been reported in Washington state, California, New York, Florida, and Rhode Island. Testing is ramping up quickly across the country so healthcare workers can identify potential new cases that might have gone previously undetected. It’s possible that the virus has been spreading for weeks throughout Washington state. As health officials continue testing for the virus, we should soon know the full scope of contagion.
The virus seems to have taken hold inside a nursing home facility in Washington state. Two confirmed cases have been reported. It’s also the site of the first known infection of a U.S. healthcare worker. Find out how the nursing home is responding to the outbreak, so you can protect yourself and your patients if the coronavirus finds its way into your facility.
A Potential Outbreak in Kirkland, Washington
Two individuals at a LifeCare nursing home just outside of Seattle were diagnosed with the coronavirus over the weekend, including a resident in her 70s who’s now in critical condition and one of the healthcare workers on staff, a woman in her 40s. However, over 50 patients and staff members at the facility are showing possible symptoms of the virus, including respiratory illnesses and flu-like symptoms. Officials continue to test patients and residents around the clock, but it remains unclear exactly how many individuals have been infected.
Long-term care facilities are some of the worst places for the virus to spread. Elderly patients are often more vulnerable to disease and illness than their younger counterparts. They may also be suffering from existing chronic conditions that will likely worsen the symptoms of the virus. It’s likely that new cases will be reported inside the LifeCare facility in the coming days as more patients and staff members receive testing.
In an official statement, the nursing home said it has temporarily put new admissions on hold. Officials also aren’t letting friends, family members, volunteers, or vendors inside the facility. However, those with loved ones inside the facility aren’t willing to wait around for answers.
Desperate for Answers
One woman, Bonnie Holstad, whose husband is a resident of the facility, isn’t taking “no” for an answer. She noticed several staff members wearing face masks when she visited her husband at LifeCare last week, but she was told they had a cold. When she arrived on Saturday to have lunch with her husband, she found the facility bolted shut. She has since emailed to get some answers, but they have yet to respond.
Holstad’s husband has Parkinson’s disease, which makes him one of the most vulnerable patients inside the facility. Holstad was able to text one of the nurses on staff, who then went down to check on her husband on her behalf. According to the nurse, her husband wasn’t showing flu-like symptoms at the time, but it’s still possible that he has the virus.
In addition to Holstad, nine of their family members have visited her husband during the previous weeks, which means there’s a chance they could all be infected. The facility isn’t sharing any information in terms of what these individuals should do to prevent the spread of infection.
Since then, Holstad has been waiting outside the facility for answers. She’s also protesting their handling of the situation. As she told reporters, “I have real problems with how they’re handling the interface with family. [It’s] sort of like a movie about an epidemic in a little town, and they don’t know how to handle the situation.”
Responding to a Potential Outbreak
If your facility ends up caring for a coronavirus patient in the coming days or weeks, you and your colleagues will need to follow proper quarantine procedures. Everyone will need to practice proper hygiene and wear face masks and gloves to prevent the spread of infection.
However, it’s also important to educate the larger community and reach out to your patients’ friends and loved ones. Communicate with those who may have been in contact with the patient in the last few weeks. Tell them to seek medical assistance and get tested if they start showing flu-like symptoms. If there’s an outbreak at your facility, your patients’ family members may be unable to see them for some time, so, if you can, try to send updates to their loved ones to keep them informed.
Facility administrators and PR team members will also need to update the public and the local community as the situation evolves. There’s a chance the virus may have already spread beyond the walls of your facility, so be sure to keep local officials and the press in the loop.
Stay tuned for more updates from the CDC as the healthcare community continues to respond to potential outbreaks. Multiple facilities and hospitals have been approved for testing in the last few days, so we should know more about the full scope of the problem in the near future.