California to help Sonoma County curb COVID-19 at skilled nursing homes

Sonoma County is calling in state experts to help rein in the coronavirus outbreaks that have led to seven recently reported deaths among residents of skilled nursing homes.|

Track coronavirus cases in Sonoma County, across California, the United States and around the world here.

For more stories about the coronavirus, go here.

Sonoma County is calling in state experts to help rein in the coronavirus outbreaks that have led to seven recently reported deaths among residents of skilled nursing homes and residential care facilties.

State officials already have visited local nursing homes that have experienced coronavirus outbreaks. The decision to have them take a larger role in the local response came Thursday after phone conversations with the state and several skilled nursing facilities, said Dr. Sundari Mase, the county health officer, after being asked in an interview who bore responsibility for curbing outbreaks in local nursing homes.

To date, residents of nursing homes and residential care facilities represent at least 25 of the 32 coronavirus deaths so far in Sonoma County. Details were not immediately available on the 32nd COVID-19 death, which county officials disclosed online late Thursday night.

The state intervention is coming at the county’s request and is expected to begin as early as Monday, Mase said. State infection control teams could offer daily recommendations to skilled nursing facilities and assist with follow-up, such as helping nursing homes move patients elsewhere if they feel a facility isn’t able to properly quarantine or isolate them, she said.

“The plan is to move forward to try to make sure we interrupt the transmission of COVID in the (skilled nursing facilities), and that we help them with essentially getting out of the outbreak mode and moving toward recovery," Mase said.

A spokesperson for the California Department of Public Health did not respond to a request for comment about the plan to raise the state’s presence in Sonoma County to help with nursing home outbreaks.

Regulatory authority for skilled nursing facilities rests with the state, though the county has some tools it can use to address the outbreaks. County officials are continuing to search for a facility that could serve as an alternate care site, adding extra space to otherwise cramped facilities and separating COVID-19 patients from the general population of nursing homes, Mase said.

A range of problems have plagued that process so far, whether it’s some sort of licensing issue or a facility’s refusal to accept COVID-positive patients, she said.

“We would be very happy to find one site to start off with that we could start transferring people to,” Mase said. “I don't know what the timeline is because literally we've been working on this for the past four months."

Mase noted that conversations with the state also have indicated that California may reopen a site of its own in Northern California — one prepared in the spring in anticipation of surging COVID-19 cases but closed when that surge didn’t materialize.

Mase also emphasized her belief that Sonoma County’s skilled nursing facilities are doing their best to fight the coronavirus, noting that many are working with outdated facilities that may have inadequate ventilation, and said they had the county’s full support.

“I just want to give them kudos for working with us and trying to do the right thing,” she said, acknowledging that “when they have 80 people in 30 rooms, it’s hard for them to move people into single rooms, obviously.”

The unusually high proportion of nursing home residents among Sonoma County’s death toll — nearly double the rate the New York Times found overall in California — might be because the county has succeeded in keeping the coronavirus from running rampant among other vulnerable populations, Mase noted.

Although there are strict restrictions in place to limit visits to skilled nursing facilities, employees who are asymptomatic or “minimally symptomatic” with COVID-19 cases they contracted outside the facility are bringing the virus inside, Mase said. That exposes vulnerable seniors; the seven recently reported deaths of skilled nursing and long-term care site residents all occurred among people who were 65 or older and had underlying health conditions.

At least 235 Sonoma County skilled nursing facility residents and workers here have tested positive as of Tuesday. More than half of those cases have been confirmed since mid-July.

The bulk of local cases are concentrated in the three facilities where state data indicates the death of at least one resident due to COVID-19: Broadway Villa Post Acute in Sonoma and Petaluma Post Acute and EmPres Post Acute Health and Rehabilitation in Petaluma.

Local health officials have indicated they’re aware that the county’s latest deaths occurred in four different facilities, but they have declined to identify the fourth, and a lag in state data means it’s unclear what the other facility might be.

The 32,000-plus California COVID-19 cases in skilled nursing facilities overwhelmingly are concentrated in Los Angeles and other parts of Southern California.

Mase also said the county was unlikely to renew its contract for coronavirus modeling with Imperial College London because California is making a wide range of modeling information freely and publicly available.

The county had received batches of COVID-19 projections specific to Sonoma County from researchers in the U.K. to gauge how the virus might spread.

"I don’t think we have plans to move forward with the London school at this point,“ she said.

You can reach Staff Writer Will Schmitt at 707-521-5207 or will.schmitt@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @wsreports.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been updated to reflect that four of seven deaths of seniors reported on Wednesday, July 29, were people living in residential care facilities. The other three were residents of skilled nursing homes.

Track coronavirus cases in Sonoma County, across California, the United States and around the world here.

For more stories about the coronavirus, go here.

UPDATED: Please read and follow our commenting policy:

  • This is a family newspaper, please use a kind and respectful tone.
  • No profanity, hate speech or personal attacks. No off-topic remarks.
  • No disinformation about current events.
  • We will remove any comments — or commenters — that do not follow this commenting policy.
Send a letter to the editor