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Sonoma County health officer reveals COVID-19 outbreaks at senior living sites

The elderly man who died Sunday after contracting the new coronavirus was a resident at a Sonoma skilled nursing facility, one of the senior living sites where 40 infections have emerged since June 1, according to county health officials and state health department data.

On Wednesday, county health officials disclosed the most detailed data yet on the troubling spread of the highly contagious infectious disease in these senior facilities. Among the recent infections at skilled nursing and residential care centers are 21 residents and 19 staff members.

During the previous three months of the pandemic, there were only 13 infections at senior living sites, Sonoma County Health Officer Dr. Sundari Mase said.

The alarming June outbreaks at these senior care locations are occurring, she said, because staff are getting infected outside work and then transmitting the virus to elderly residents, who are among the most vulnerable in the county to contracting COVID-19.

“What's happening is people who are employed in skilled nursing facilities or these residential care facilities are either contacts to cases from our other outbreak situations, and don't know it, or go to work anyhow,” Mase said, during a press briefing. “Or they just are asymptomatic and they don't know they’re cases, but they go into work.”

Public health restrictions have greatly limited visitors to these senior living centers, so “the only way” residents are getting infected is from employees who don’t realize they have the virus, she said.

Mase would not reveal the name of the skilled nursing home where the man over 65 was a resident, before he was transferred over the weekend to an unidentified local hospital where he died in less than 24 hours there.

But California Department of Public Health data shows Broadway Villa Post Acute, a skilled nursing and therapeutic facility in Sonoma, reported to the state on Monday a death related to COVID-19 had occurred there.

Mike Empey, executive director of Broadway Villa, did not return phone calls or reply to multiple emails from a Press Democrat reporter seeking comment from him.

On Tuesday, Mase said a recent outbreak at an unidentified local skilled nursing facility was partly to blame for the spike of infections Monday when county health officials reported 50 new cases, the most in a single day since March 2 when the first local case emerged, and Sunday when 32 cases surfaced.

On Wednesday, Mase again declined to name the skilled nursing center where the recent outbreak occurred, and in which senior care center the elderly man lived before he became the fifth county resident to die from COVID-19. The man was in poor health, but Mase refused to release any other details about him or how, when and where he was infected by the contagion.

In an email response Friday to The Press Democrat, Empey said one Broadway Villa resident and two staff members had tested positive for COVID-19.

The workers had no symptoms and were quarantined outside the facility since their diagnosis, he wrote. The skilled nursing center had initiated COVID-19 isolation protocols for the infected resident and was “carefully monitoring the situation to maintain and promote the resident’s ongoing health and well-being,” he wrote.

Meanwhile, the 40 infections Mase revealed on Wednesday are connected with a range of senior living sites. Of the 19 staff, five worked in skilled nursing facilities; 13 worked in assisted or senior living facilities; and one employee worked in a group or board and care home. Of the 21 residents infected during the outbreaks, 13 were in skilled nursing facilities; five were in assisted senior living facilities; and three were in other residential, group or board and care homes.

The health officer said 62% of local COVID-19 cases among residents in these senior living locations are occurring in skilled nursing facilities, while 68% of infections involve staff in assisted or senior living facilities.

Other recent infections at senior care centers include Brookdale Paulin Creek in Santa Rosa. In a June 20 letter to residents and their families, the facility reported two residents and three employees had tested positive for COVID-19. At Petaluma Post-Acute Rehab, two workers and two residents tested positive for coronavirus as of last week.

Earlier in the pandemic, infections also have been confirmed among staff at skilled nursing facilities Santa Rosa Post Acute and Apple Valley Post Acute Rehab in Sebastopol, as well as at Villa Capri at Varenna, a Santa Rosa assisted-living and memory care facility.

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

For more stories about the coronavirus, go here.

You can reach Staff Writer Martin Espinoza at 707-521-5213 or martin.espinoza@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @pressreno.

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