ASHLAND -- There are currently COVID-19 outbreaks at three long-term care facilities in Ashland County, according to the most recent update from the Ohio Department of Health.
A Wednesday, Dec. 9 update from the ODH's COVID-19 dashboard shows Brethren Care Village Assisted Living, Crystal Care of Ashland and LSS The Good Shepherd Skilled Nursing Home have at least two residents with active COVID-19 cases. An outbreak is declared when two or more individuals test positive for an infectious disease.
"With the increased cases we're seeing, there's increased spread, and with that increased spread, it's more difficult on long-term care facilities to keep their residents safe," said Ashland County Health Department (ACHD) Director of Nursing Shirley Bixby. "That's where I'm concerned. The older populations become more vulnerable, and it's harder to protect the people we're trying to protect."
In an update last week, the ACHD reported 120 or more active cases of COVID-19, bringing the cumulative total to at least 1,371 cases in Ashland County residents. Since early December, the ACHD has been struggling to regularly post the most accurate number of COVID-19 cases.
"Even with additional contact tracers, the number of cases is overwhelming, Bixby said.
Care facilities have been particularly impacted. Last Wednesday's report shows active COVID-19 cases in five residents and two staff at Brethren Care Village Assisted Living, in four residents and one staff at Crystal Care of Ashland, and two residents and two staff at LSS The Good Shepherd Skilled Nursing Home.
On Nov. 4, residents and staff at LSS The Good Shepherd appeared "healthy," Hamilton said. Weekly testing of staff consistently yielded negative results.
"That day we had all staff report to our facility for weekly testing. This testing cycle was done through the state-supported testing process," said Jennifer Hamilton, the director of communications at LSS The Good Shepherd. "Unfortunately, we did not receive the test results until four full days later. This was bound to happen, unfortunately, due to the increasing prevalence within the community."
The results made the facility aware of asymptomatic employees who had been working various shifts from Wednesday to Sunday, all within one unit of the facility.
In hopes of getting ahead of the viral spread, the facility started performing rapid daily tests on the residents on the effected unit, Hamilton explained.
"This did help us to identify COVID positive residents sooner, but ultimately, it didn’t reduce the spread," she said.
LSS The Good Shepherd, is Ashland County's largest long-term care facility. Correspondingly, the facility has seen the largest number of cumulative COVID-19 cases in Ashland County.
The facility has 110 residents and a staff of more than 220. The Wednesday report from ODH shows 98 total cases at this facility -- 55 in residents and 43 in staff.
"Truly, the larger you are, the greater your risk is of COVID getting in," Hamilton said.
Since last week, LSS The Good Shepherd has seen active cases drop from three to two and four to two in residents and staff, respectively.
"We were fortunate to have managed, at least on some level, to keep an outbreak at bay for eight months through tremendous effort," Hamilton said.
She believes the best line of defense was keeping units and staff separated, as COVID-19 spread was minimized to other units.
"This virus is devastating to our residents. We have experienced flu outbreaks in the past, but nothing compares to this," Hamilton said. "COVID-19 is so contagious and so harmful to our seniors, especially those with co-morbidities. We are truly saddened by what our residents, their families and our staff have recently been through."
Earlier this year, LSS The Good Shepherd prevented a single case of COVID-19 from spreading to other residents. The case was discovered in April before COVID-19 had widely spread in Ashland County.
The number of cases at Brethren Care Village Assisted Living has increased slightly since last week's update. On Dec. 2, the ODH reported three active cases in residents and two in staff.
The cumulative number of COVID-19 cases at this care home has reached 92 -- 44 cases in residents and 48 in staff.
"No other business but health care is required to report this information like senior living and hospitals; if that were the case and all business were required to report the daily data like aforementioned, the big box stores, for example, would be running to shut their doors with all the positive cases that would be surfacing," said president and CEO of Brethren Care Village, Troy A. Snyder.
In mid-October, nearly 40 percent of the residents of the Health Care Center's nursing home at Brethren Care Village had tested positive for COVID-19. There were 22 active COVID-19 cases at that time.
The latest report shows decreases in active COVID-19 cases at Crystal Care of Ashland. The facility saw active cases drop from 34 to 5. Last week, 30 residents and four staff members had been actively experiencing COVID-19.
The more recent update shows the care center has cumulatively seen 80 cases -- 62 in residents and 18 in staff.
Crystal Care of Ashland had not responded to a request for comment at the time of publication.
The total number of outbreaks in Ashland County is down from last week's report. The ODH's COVID-19 dashboard indicated five outbreaks at long-term care facilities in its Dec. 2 update. Other care facilities with active cases at that time were Kingston of Ashland and Loudonville Rest Home.
Decreasing the Spread
As the pandemic continues, long-term care facilities in Ashland County have relied on frequent testing, social distancing measures, personal protective equipment, visiting restrictions and more to limit the spread of COVID-19.
Among the most unique proactive measures is a recent move taken by both Lutherans Social Services programs in Ashland, LSS The Good Shepherd and LSS Lutheran Village. Last week, the facilities installed ionization machines at their buildings to clean indoor air.
"These machines, manufactured by Global Plasma Solutions, are the latest step in our fight against covid and keeping our residents safe. They reduce airborne pathogens and are added to our current HVAC systems," Hamilton said.
Director of communications at Kingston Healthcare, Adam Spriggs mentioned the facility's proactive testing procedures, but also noted that the facility's commitment to following CDC guidelines remains a key component in reducing the spread of COVID-19.
"This includes wearing of masks, regular sanitizing of surfaces, enforcing a no visitor policy and isolating positive and symptomatic residents," Spriggs said.
Interviews with representatives of Kingston, LSS The Good Shepherd and Brethren Care Village all noted the importance of virtual meetings and FaceTime calls regularly to replace in-person visitations.
"While this can be a challenging reality for our residents and their families, we appreciate their understanding and faith that the best way to protect everyone under our roof is to restrict in-person visitation at this time," Spriggs said.
Snyder of Brethren Care mentioned investing in equipment to facilitate the virtual conversations.
"We have been blessed to have very supportive families and residents whom are working together remotely through Face time and other online mechanisms to keep in close contact with loved ones," Snyder said.