Bay Area nursing homes struggle to slow coronavirus spread

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By Ron Kroichick San Francisco Chronicle, April 5, 2020

Signage outside the Laguna Honda Hospital entrance states that visitors are not allowed in.
Signage outside the Laguna Honda Hospital entrance states that visitors are not allowed in.Photo: Jana Asenbrennerova / Special to The Chronicle

At an Orinda nursing home, 27 people have tested positive for the coronavirus. At San Francisco’s huge Laguna Honda Hospital, 14 have the virus. A post-acute care facility in San Jose has 11 infections, and an assisted living facility in Burlingame has six.

Even as hopes rise that the Bay Area is flattening the curve of the virus’ lethal trajectory, it’s clear that nursing homes and other senior care facilities carry significant risk for widespread, devastating infection.

“You can blow up all the numbers in a heartbeat if you had a big outbreak at a nursing home,” said George Rutherford, a professor of epidemiology at UCSF, “and (Orinda) is a big outbreak.”

At the Orinda Care Center, 24 of the 45 residents have tested positive, with two of them hospitalized, according to data provided Saturday by Karl Fischer, a spokesman for Contra Costa County Health Services. Three staff members also tested positive. (Efforts to reach the facility and the county on Sunday were unsuccessful.)

All residents and employees at the facility have been tested, Fischer said. He characterized the number of tests as between 70 and 80.

The issue has the attention of Gov. Gavin Newsom. At a news conference Saturday, he said stamping out the coronavirus at nursing homes was a top priority.

“We are seeing hot spots,” said Newsom, who expressed concern about facilities in San Diego and San Bernardino as well as Orinda. “Some of these facilities where two-thirds of the patients are testing positive — people (are) losing their lives, people (are) losing their loved ones.

“This is a focus, disproportionate to so many others,” he said.

The state also is working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to help with contact tracing and other technical issues, Newsom said.

The nursing home in San Bernardino County that Newsom mentioned reported 57 cases and two deaths last week. Public health officials long have feared a similarly devastating outbreak at Laguna Honda, a 780-bed, city-run facility.

Laguna Honda reported two new cases over the weekend, bringing its total to 14, according to the city’s Department of Emergency Management. Eleven of the confirmed cases are staff members and three are residents.

Rutherford, the UCSF professor, traced the increased focus on nursing homes to what happened the past two months at the Life Care Center in Kirkland, Wash. That facility has been linked to several dozen coronavirus deaths.

In mid-March, Bay Area county health officials ordered nursing homes to ban visitors, cancel group gatherings and follow strict health protocols.

Rutherford, who is among those advising San Francisco’s public health director, said Laguna Honda is “way high up on the agenda.”

The concerns extend beyond Laguna Honda and Orinda in the Bay Area. At Altria Burlingame, an assisted-living facility, five residents tested positive and two of the five have died. One staff member has also tested positive. The facility confirmed its first case of the virus on March 15.

A report last month by television station KGO indicated there were 13 confirmed cases at Pacifica Nursing & Rehab Center; the facility would not provide numbers when asked Sunday. Also, on Friday, officials announced that the Canyon Springs Post-Acute Care facility in San Jose had 11 infections, including seven residents and four staff members. The facility could not be reached Sunday to update numbers.

Santa Clara County officials subsequently announced they are providing assistance to long-term care facilities, including Canyon Springs, in an effort to reduce the spread of COVID-19. The county has supplied personal protective equipment to Canyon Springs at the facility’s request.

In addition, the county will provide coronavirus-related support to all local nursing homes, skilled nursing facilities and assisted-living facilities in the county. That support will include assessments of infection prevention; daily monitoring of facilities with suspected or confirmed cases; regularly updated guidance about new requirements and resources; and technical assistance for infection control.

Chronicle staff writer Shwanika Narayan contributed to this report.Ron Kroichick is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: Twitter: @ronkroichick