The Samarkand retirement home dodged a corona-shaped bullet after an employee with symptoms was diagnosed positive for COVID-19. Twelve days ago, the facility stated on its website that a worker in its memory-care section was sent home after having symptoms. Fortunately, the person had worked in a private residence on the campus, providing personal care to a single resident — no others at the facility, which houses 375 elderly individuals, have symptoms, Public Health Director Van Do-Reynoso said on Wednesday.
The worker stayed home in isolation, said Do-Reynoso, after symptoms appeared on March 27. As an individual in a Tier 1 occupation, namely employment in a congregate care setting, a COVID-19 test was performed. Her contacts were monitored, and her family members had no significant symptoms. As per Public Health’s guidelines, with no fever for three days after her symptoms abated, the employee returned to work on April 8.
For infection-control reasons, family members were asked to avoid visiting Samarkand, but several called the Independent to express their extreme concern for their elderly relatives: The callers, who requested anonymity to protect their family members, were hearing nothing about the state of health inside the facility, more than one person said. Why were no other tests being performed? they protested.
Though Samarkand has been working with County Public Health on infection control, Public Health officials did not inform the public of the case at the congregate living facility. But Samarkand’s executive director, Laurie Small, disclosed the case in a statement posted at the facility’s website on April 3. Small reassured her readers that no residents exhibited symptoms. Two days later, on Sunday, April 5, Public Health announced that health-care facilities must conduct symptom and temperature checks on employees “to prevent workers with illness that could be COVID-19 from contact with vulnerable persons in health care and home care settings.”
By then, reporters had already begun to butt heads with Public Health officials on the lack of detail in the coronavirus updates and on the county’s readiness in general. The health officials were concerned about privacy issues, as COVID was already identified as a socially transmitted illness. In March, however, Public Health had described cases among workers at another congregate care setting: the County Jail. By the week of April 6, health officials agreed to state if health-care workers were among new coronavirus cases but still did not disclose the Samarkand employee.
The extended-care nursing facility at Samarkand holds up to 63 people, and its Alzheimer’s residents make up a portion of that facility. Samarkand was taking a number of steps, Small wrote, to train employees again on recognizing COVID-19 symptoms, the use of protective equipment, and implementing more disinfection and cleaning. A daily health questionnaire and temperature check was implemented for employees, visitors, and contractors. Residents were asked to restrict guests voluntarily, including family members, though Marketing Director Randy Eilts said an exception was made for end-of-life patients.
Eilts added that more precautions were taken around food: Meals were brought to resident apartments by the dining staff at no charge as the dining commons had closed. Residents who needed assistance with meals were being helped, with mealtimes staggered as necessary. Other changes at the facility include curtailment of residential activities, no groups larger than 10, and a request for physical distancing, but more offerings, like fitness classes, on the in-house television channel.
Public Health’s Do-Reynoso said her agency was in touch with Samarkand daily, and would continue to monitor this incident through April 18.
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