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Oregon Monitoring 34 Senior Care Homes For Suspected Coronavirus Cases

March 17, 2020

People in 34 nursing homes and other long-term care centers in Oregon are suspected of having the new coronavirus, state officials said Tuesday.

The people haven’t tested positive for the disease, but their conditions have prompted the state Department of Human Services to bar all but the most essential people from going into the facilities, said spokeswoman Elisa Williams.

The number of those senior care homes has more than doubled -- from 16 Sunday to the current count. So far, only seven homes have tested free and clear and one home -- the state veterans nursing home in Lebanon -- has tested positive for cases. The rest of the results are still out.

A resident over 60 at Sheldon Park Senior Living in Eugene, for instance, was tested for the new coronavirus after he was hospitalized last Friday with a fever and tested negative for influenza, a Lane County spokesman said.

As of Tuesday, the resident’s test results weren’t yet in, but the person was doing well, a spokeswoman for the assisted living facility said.

The Eugene complex is one of an ever-changing number of elder care communities that are taking special precautions under order of the state to prevent the spread of COVID-19. About 45,000 people live in the facilities throughout Oregon.

Some of the restrictions on assisted living centers and nursing homes with suspected COVID-19 cases have now been extended to all approximately 2,000 senior care facilities in Oregon, including adult foster homes, as well as group homes for people with developmental and intellectual disabilities.

Among the restrictions: Family and friends are allowed only if a resident is dying.

As before, visitors must be screened for risk for having COVID-19 -- including symptoms, travel to a hot spot or contact with a known coronavirus patient. If the visitor is at risk, they must wear protective equipment, stay in the resident’s room and must restrict physical contact with the resident, among things.

For facilities with a suspected, presumptive or confirmed COVID-19 case, additional restrictions apply, such as a ban on all group events.

Staff members at the Eugene assisted living home, for example, have been bringing food directly to residents’ apartments. Families who want to bring something to their loved ones must leave it outside for staff to pick up. Residents awaiting the results of their coronavirus test must be isolated in their rooms.

Senior care homes are ideal grounds for coronavirus outbreaks. Elderly people and people with underlying health conditions are among the most vulnerable to the disease, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says.

The facilities provide the perfect environment for a virus to spread from one person to another. Staff go from room to room, interacting closely with residents, helping them with hygiene and serving them food. Until state restrictions, residents could mingle and eat in common areas.

It’s impossible to predict the likelihood that the residents now being tested for coronavirus actually have it. Department of Human Services officials believe that many of the illnesses are driven by Oregon’s continuing flu season and the just-beginning allergy season, Williams said.

The state is exercising an abundance of caution with the restrictions, she said.

“If someone guesses wrong” that a person with symptoms doesn’t have the disease, Williams said, “you can’t take that back.”

If the disease has a chance to spread undetected inside a nursing home or assisted living center, the consequence could be an outbreak among the people most likely to have serious complications from the disease.

The evidence exists in Oregon already.

Cases in the state veterans home in Lebanon have been growing, with 14 residents and one staff member now testing positive for the coronavirus. In Washington, about 30 people associated with a nursing home have died of the coronavirus.

Please contact me if you have any information about the home in Lebanon or questions about nursing home restrictions.

-- Fedor Zarkhin

This article was originally published by The Oregonian/OregonLive, one of more than a dozen news organizations throughout the state sharing their coverage of the novel coronavirus outbreak to help inform Oregonians about this evolving heath issue.