At least 99 COVID-19 cases have been detected at Josephine Caring Community in the past several days.
The outbreak has sent seven to the hospital where five have died, Dr. Chris Spitters, Snohomish County’s top health officer, said in a media briefing Tuesday morning.
"The cause is the widespread COVID activity in the surrounding community making its way in through staff and visitors," Spitters said. "These settings are highly vulnerable for transmission."
He said the cases are roughly split 50/50 between residents and staff.
The Stanwood long-term care facility reported its first case Oct. 26 and instituted a strict lockdown, but the virus rapidly spread, according to the Snohomish Health District.
“This is why we have taken such drastic measures in Snohomish County and statewide to protect these vulnerable populations," Spitters said last week. "I implore everyone to double-down their efforts so we can prevent more scenarios like this from happening.”
The number of cases at Josephine increased dramatically last week, nearly tripling in 48 to 72 hours, according to the Health District.
Josephine, which was among the first facilities in the state to battle the virus, had 34 cases in the spring. A lockdown worked, and Josephine was COVID-free from May until Oct. 26.
“This round seems different than March as nearly all of the residents who have tested positive have little to no symptoms,” Terry Robertson, CEO of Josephine Caring Community in Stanwood, wrote in an email to the Stanwood Camano News. “We have about 30 staff who are quarantining at home. A few have heavy symptoms, but most have little to no symptoms.”
Two residents were in the hospital as of Sunday, according to an update posted on Josephine's website. Seven residents have recovered and 10 more residents are expected to recover in the next few days, according to the statement. Eleven staff members have returned to work, and 10 more staff were set to return to work on Monday.
The Health District said a COVID-19 focused infection control assessment and response visit will take place at Josephine soon to identify and recommend any additional interventions. The facility — which houses about 130 residents in its nursing home, 60 in its assisted living units and 300 staff — is currently implementing crisis capacity strategies to mitigate their critical staffing shortage and meet patient care needs.
The 94 COVID-19 cases in this outbreak make it the worst yet in Snohomish County. Previously, Sunrise View in Everett had an outbreak of 79 confirmed cases, according to the Health District.
Robertson, at Josephine Caring Community, said staffing is very challenging.
“Nurse managers are working the med carts as well as the director of nursing and assistant director of nursing,” he wrote. “Every caregiver with a Nursing Assistant license is being pulled to provide patient care. Many staff are working multiple double shifts during a pay period.”
While keeping COVID-19 hospitalization rates in Snohomish County below the state’s goal of less than 10% is a goal, the numbers are climbing, according to state Department of Health data.
“The hospital surge has arrived,” Spitters said. “It’s not been as high as it was before. Hopefully we can bend this curve and get things back down before it does exceed capacity.”
Capacity isn’t the sole worry at area hospitals. Staffing, like at the Josephine facility, is a major problem, Spitters said.
“There’s a nursing shortage,” he said. “So sometimes even though hospitals have beds, they don’t have the people to put next to the bed to take care of the patient.”
Robertson said residents with symptoms or testing positive are quarantined to a private room with full infection control procedures in place.
“Sure would be nice to have the $41 million Congress, under the HEROES ACT, gave Washington state nursing home caregivers to help fight this awful disease,” wrote Robertson, referencing the state’s decision earlier this year to divert the emergency federal money into the General Fund.
In mid-March, Congress approved emergency COVID-19 funds, including additional money for state Medicaid programs, to help facilities pay for staffing and PPE costs.
The state acknowledged in an August article in the Stanwood Camano News that it still receives the federal money but has reduced the amount it forwards to nursing homes as part of a “tightening across the state budget,” said Hayden Mackley, spokesperson for the Office of Financial Management, the state’s budget office.
“In a press conference I heard Gov. Inslee say, “We have to help these people,” Robertson wrote. “‘These people’ being caregivers and the residents we care for. I would like to see some follow through on that promise.”