The number of Washington long-term care facilities with at least one active case of COVID-19 has surpassed 300 — a record number that's likely to increase as the virus spreads in communities across the state.
It's unknown how many cases are in each of the 339 facilities; the number of cases can range from one staff member testing positive to 99 total cases among residents and staff, like the recent outbreak at a Stanwood facility, according to the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS). But in the span of one week, from Nov. 9 to Nov. 16, the number of infections connected to long-term care facilities grew by about 460 cases, including 35 deaths.
"I think everyone is on high alert at this point, with long-term care facilities," said DSHS spokesperson Chris Wright. "You're seeing increases pretty quickly, and as with cases statewide, you're definitely seeing that upward trend."
Health and senior care officials say the numbers and spread show how long-term care populations remain vulnerable, especially during the holiday season as officials try to discourage travel and visits. As the pandemic took hold across the U.S., the virus has proven especially deadly in long-term care sites; cases in these facilities account for about 7% of total cases in the state, but 55% of total COVID-19 deaths.
As part of Gov. Jay Inslee's public-health order that went into effect earlier this week, all indoor visits at long-term care facilities are suspended and outdoor visits have limitations. Health officials have said that as COVID-19 cases increase through a community, the virus can still make its way into senior facilities, even with lockdown measures.
Of the 339 facilities, 120 are nursing homes, which make up the greatest proportion of all sites with active cases, followed by 103 assisted-living facilities. The remaining are adult family homes and other residential environments for people with disabilities or health needs.
Since the start of the pandemic, 89% of the state's 208 nursing homes have reported at least one case of COVID-19. The increases mirror the nationwide surge of cases in nursing homes, according to data from the American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living (AHCA/NCAL), which found that weekly cases grew by 73% from mid-September to early November.
In Washington, at least a dozen facilities that had large outbreaks toward the start of the pandemic have reported new cases over the past month, according to DSHS data. This includes Josephine Caring Community, which reported 99 cases, including five deaths, stemming from an outbreak at the Stanwood facility. Josephine previously had an outbreak that grew to at least 34 cases, including six deaths, as of April 17.
Snohomish County health officials have said the cause of the current outbreak at Josephine is widespread coronavirus activity in the area, where infections are rising. Across the state, 1,987 new coronavirus cases were reported Thursday.
The virus has taken a toll on residents and staff in all facilities hit by the virus, said Deb Murphy, the CEO and president of LeadingAge Washington, an advocacy group that represents nonprofit nursing homes. Staff members, Murphy said, are emotionally and physically worn out.
"They have an impossible job of trying to protect staff and care for those at the highest risk of contracting this virus," Murphy wrote in an email. "They will lose more staff and more residents to this virus, despite their best work. They are at a breaking point but trying to hold on, day by day, praying for the vaccine to arrive."
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