27 people at Bay Area nursing home positive for coronavirus: ‘We are very very concerned’

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By Maura Dolan Los Angeles Times April 3, 2020

Orinda Care Center
Orinda Care Center, a skilled nursing facility where 27 people tested positive for the virus. (Maura Dolan / Los Angeles Times)

Twenty-seven people at a skilled nursing facility in the East Bay city of Orinda have tested positive for coronavirus, in the latest sign of the dangers such facilities face.

Contra Costa County health officials said the facility, the 47-bed Orinda Care Center, notified public health officials on Tuesday that two residents were sent to the hospital with symptoms.

Of those who tested positive, 24 are residents and three are staff members. The county has tested all the residents and is testing all staff. Most of the residents are older than 65 and about half are older than 80. Fourteen people at the facility tested negative, and results for others are still pending.

“We are very very concerned,” said Dr. Chris Farnitano, the county’s health officer. “This is a virus without a vaccine. This is a virus without a medical treatment.”

He said the the residents who have tested negative have been separated from those who are infected, and the staff also has separated. Staff who have tested positive have been told to isolate at home, but if they have no symptoms, they may, with protective gear, continue to serve the residents who are also positive.

Orinda is an upscale community bordering the Oakland-Berkeley hills. Farnitano said the virus is now in every community in the county.

Nursing homes have been the focus of major concern as the virus spreads, with outbreaks at facilities across the state.

Hospitals are desperately trying to discharge patients to clear space for an expected wave of people infected with COVID-19. But nursing homes are reluctant to accept any new patients — or even returning residents — until it is proved that they are virus-free.

On Monday, the California Department of Public Health sided squarely with the hospitals, ordering skilled nursing facilities to accept residents even if they have tested positive for the novel coronavirus. After an outcry from elder advocates, one of whom called the directive “nothing less than a death sentence” for nursing home residents, state officials issued new guidance late Wednesday.

“The final determination lies with the local health department,” the state Department of Public Health said in an email to The Times. “Local public health officers have this authority in an emergency.”

Elder advocates, who say most nursing homes lack the equipment and training to properly quarantine patients with the virus, are not satisfied. Many want the state to set up entirely separate living spaces — such as empty hotels, dormitories or cruise ships — for nursing home residents with the virus.NewsletterGet our free Coronavirus Today newsletter

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“The state’s constantly shifting positions are confusing and will lead to bad outcomes,” said Michael Connors, a spokesman for California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform. “Which guidance are facilities expected to pay attention to?”

The confusing signals come as the number of suspected coronavirus infections at communal living institutions, including nursing homes, is skyrocketing. On Thursday, Los Angeles County officials announced the health department was investigating potential outbreaks at 54 institutions, dozens more than the day before.

Eleven of the 78 people who have died of COVID-19 in Los Angeles County have been nursing home residents, officials said.