By Annie Sciacca, and Maggie Angst, Bay Area News Group, December 4 2020
SAN JOSE — With COVID-19 cases in California surging to new levels, Bay Area nursing homes and homeless centers have been slammed hard with frighteningly large outbreaks.
Two San Jose nursing facilities have a combined 232 COVID cases and Santa Clara County saw its first major outbreak at a homeless shelter, where 60 people have been infected since Nov. 23.
The outbreaks at nursing homes haven’t been this staggering since the early weeks of the coronavirus pandemic.
One facility, Westwood Post-Acute, which was formerly Amberwood Gardens, had 151 total confirmed COVID cases as of Wednesday, according to Santa Clara County officials. The center’s residents accounted for 81 cases and staff for 70.
The other facility, Skyline Healthcare Center, had 86 total positive cases as of Wednesday — 66 residents and 20 health care workers.
County officials said they are sending specialized teams to investigate the outbreaks, do tests and enforce safety measures. The county also is offering its own staff to work in the homes if needed to relieve employees who test positive.
“The larger the situation, the more resources we provide,” Assistant Health Officer Elsa Villarino said.
Representatives from Westwood Post-Acute issued a written statement to this news organization saying that preventing the spread of COVID is its highest priority.
While Westwood’s 258-bed facility avoided a COVID outbreak for several months under a mitigation plan approved by the state, that all changed amid the statewide surge and it currently has 56 residents and 10 employees confirmed positive for the virus, according to a company statement.
“All employees with COVID restrictions are not working and the facility is dealing appropriately with staffing vacancies,” the company’s statement notes, adding that it is working with the county health department to ensure proper infection control protocols are followed.
State health records reveal that inspectors found several instances this year in which Westwood Post-Acute did not follow proper infection control protocols designed to prevent the transmission and spread of COVID to residents, staff and visitors.
Specifically, inspectors in August found the facility was not properly documenting information to screen staff and visitors. An earlier inspection in May found a staff member was not wearing her mask properly. And state inspectors in March found that a shortage of nursing assistants at night meant residents were getting only bed baths instead of full showers. While that was not directly related to COVID care, studies have shown that facilities with staffing shortages struggle to contain COVID-19 outbreaks.
At Skyline Healthcare Center, inspectors who visited the facility in May and July found that several staff members were not wearing masks and the facility had not properly screened them by checking their temperatures upon entering.
Skyline’s parent company, Mariner Healthcare, also operates a Hayward nursing home that experienced a large COVID outbreak earlier in the year. A lawsuit against the company alleges staffing shortages may have resulted in poor care for residents of the facility.
Though relatively spared before from major COVID outbreaks, homeless shelters also have been seeing surges since the start of November.
“We’ve recently had an outbreak at one of our homeless shelters and this is actually the first major outbreak in a homeless shelter in Santa Clara County since the beginning of the pandemic,” said Dr. George Han, the county’s deputy health officer.
At the Boccardo Reception Center, an emergency shelter in San Jose, 60 cases have been confirmed since Nov. 23, or about half of the 120 people staying there.
County officials say 20 unhoused people tested positive on Nov. 23, an additional 26 a week later on Nov. 29, and 14 this week. In addition, four staffers were infected during that period.
Another homeless shelter in San Jose, South Hall, reported a total of seven cases since Nov. 18. That shelter holds 285 beds and is among the largest in the county.
Han said county officials are also keeping an eye on the cluster of cases at South Hall to ensure it “doesn’t turn into an outbreak situation.”
“It’s still not clear at this stage whether those seven cases represent the normal amount of cases that you might expect given how much community transmission of COVID there is or if it represent the beginning of an outbreak, so that’s under active investigation,” Han added.
What is clear, however, is that as cases in the broader community rise, so too do those in congregate care settings such as homeless shelters and skilled nursing facilities.
“This coincides, of course, with the extreme rise in cases that we’ve been seeing since the beginning of November,” Han said Thursday. “What happens is, as cases rise in the community, that also means that more cases get introduced into these congregate settings.”
California is averaging nearly 15,000 new COVID cases per day — the highest number than at any other point in the pandemic. The rate of people testing positive for COVID has reached 7.3%, up from 5.3% two weeks ago and 3% at the beginning of November.
The number of hospitalizations statewide has also increased, prompting Gov. Gavin Newsom to issue a new order Thursday that will force additional restrictions in any of the five regions of the state where fewer than 15% of intensive care units remain available. None of the regions — separated into Northern California, the Bay Area, Greater Sacramento, the San Joaquin Valley and Southern California — currently meet the threshold but could in a matter of days, Newsom said.
Staff writer Evan Webeck contributed reporting.