Allison Berry, health officer for Clallam and Jefferson counties, said on Sept. 10 that more than half of the present ongoing COVID-19 cases — 65 of 117 — have arisen at the Sequim Health & Rehabilitation Center, where 50 residents and 15 employees have contracted the coronavirus. Sequim Gazette photo by Matthew Nash

Allison Berry, health officer for Clallam and Jefferson counties, said on Sept. 10 that more than half of the present ongoing COVID-19 cases — 65 of 117 — have arisen at the Sequim Health & Rehabilitation Center, where 50 residents and 15 employees have contracted the coronavirus. Sequim Gazette photo by Matthew Nash

Seven nursing homes hit with COVID-19 outbreaks

Recent cases of COVID-19 have hit residents and staff at seven long-term care facilities in Clallam and Jefferson counties, leading to a total of 10 deaths and 138 cases, Dr. Allison Berry, health officer for both counties, said Saturday.

Seven people have died in one facility in Jefferson County and three among four facilities in Clallam during the outbreaks, which began in late August, Berry said in a string of text messages on Sept. 10 and 11.

She would not identify the facilities where they occurred, but did confirm, when asked, that cases had occurred at Sequim Health & Rehabilitation Center.

More than half of the present ongoing cases — 65 of 117 — have arisen at the facility, where 50 residents and 15 employees have contracted the coronavirus, Berry said on Sept. 10.

Outbreaks are considered ongoing if there have been new cases in the last 14 days, she clarified the next day.

Six outbreaks were at Clallam County facilities, with four still active, and one remains active in Jefferson County, Berry said.

Edward Ebling, whose last day as administrator at Sequim Rehab was Sept. 12 after 13 years at the facility, earlier on Sept. 10 had confirmed the Sequim Rehab outbreak and said outbreaks had occurred at other facilities on the North Olympic Peninsula.

Ebling, who will be a regional director of operations for Gig Harbor-based Caldera Care, said that there were 78 residents living at Sequim Rehab as of Sept. 9.

He said there have been no deaths at the facility because of COVID-19.

He said two died who contracted the coronavirus while on end-of-life care.

“They didn’t get COVID and die from COVID,” Ebling said on Sept. 11.

Ebling said the first case of the coronavirus was discovered at Sequim Rehab on Aug. 27.

Janette Force of Port Townsend, who said she took her 94-year-old mother to the facility Aug. 24 on a referral from Jefferson Healthcare hospital, said on Sept. 11 she feels guilty for taking her there because now her mother, who is vaccinated, has COVID-19.

Force said she believe that, because of robocalls from Sequim Rehab on the outbreak and explanations on cases there, that the coronavirus was already present at the facility by Aug. 24. Her mother tested positive Aug. 29.

“I was horrified,” Force said.

“How could I manage a loved one’s health so poorly? I thought I was making a good decision, and I made a terrible decision and felt responsible. Of course, it was only a matter of time before she tested positive, and that’s the horrific element of a pandemic.

“She was the ideal candidate.”

Make info public

Force said information should be made more public about the location of outbreaks so residents can make better decisions about themselves and their loved ones.

“The impact of not having that information until it’s in the rear-view mirror is devastating,” she said .

Berry has said she does not reveal specific or general locations of outbreaks, including where deaths occur, to ensure full disclosure by individuals during contact tracing.

“For community outbreaks, we will certainly start releasing locations if all can’t be contacted, which is likely,” she said Friday.

“Unfortunately, the current case surge is limiting even our ability to detect outbreaks.”

Facility report

Ebling said as of Sept. 9, 44 residents and 15 employees — including one employee who was unvaccinated — had tested positive. The total of infected residents was 50 as of Sept. 10, according to Berry.

All residents who had contracted the coronavirus as of Sept. 9 were vaccinated, Ebling said.

“Nobody has gone to the hospital,” he said.

Their symptoms have included fever for several days or a temporary loss of the sense of taste.

“There is nobody I would categorize as severely ill,” Ebling said.

The risk of severe illness and hospitalization is dramatically cut for fully vaccinated individuals who are infected by the coronavirus in breakthrough cases, according to a recent study in The Lancet Infectious Diseases journal (thelancet.com/journals).

“Fully vaccinated individuals with COVID-19, especially if they were 60 years or older, were more likely to be completely asymptomatic than were unvaccinated controls,” according to the study.

Berry said she did not have the data on Sept. 10 for current hospitalizations for residents and staff at the five facilities.

“But I can confirm that we have had hospitalizations and deaths from these outbreaks,” she said.

“The vast majority of residents are vaccinated. That is not true of staff.”

Ninety percent of Sequim Rehab residents are vaccinated, Ebling said.

“We’re doing our best to keep positive residents away from non-positive residents, including some (in) private rooms, some isolation, some quarantine,” he said.

Berry released COVID-19 totals for the counties after Ebling confirmed to Peninsula Daily News earlier on Sept. 10 that 44 Sequim Rehab residents and 15 employees had contracted the coronavirus as of Sept. 9.

“I can confirm that Sequim Health & Rehab is the highest case load,” she said.

Ebling had said that every nursing facility in Clallam and Jefferson counties had experienced a COVID-19 outbreak.

“It seems to have hit every residential facility all at once very intensely,” he said.

In response, Berry said without identifying facilities other than Sequim Rehab that current cases have totalled 65 (at Sequim Rehab), 22, 11 and three in four facilities in Clallam and 16 cases at one facility in Jefferson.

She said the outbreaks began at the end of August and continued through early September, with one new coronavirus outbreak this week — at the facility where there are three cases.

Force said her mother had suffered an injury falling off her recliner but had no broken bones so was not admitted to Jefferson Healthcare hospital before being taken by ambulance to Sequim Rehab.

There, she tested positive Aug. 29.

Force received robocalls from the facility, including on Aug. 29 and Sept. 3, regarding the outbreak.

“That week, we got daily calls,” she said Saturday.

She said she may have received one call before Aug. 27, when the facility was shut down due to the outbreak and she was asked to leave while visiting her mother. She has not seen her since.

“Hello all, we are putting out this communication to make all aware that we have another positive resident today making the total of seven residents who are positive for Covid,” the Aug. 29 robocall said, two days after Ebling said the outbreak began.

“This resident has also been without symptoms and family notified. We will be doing testing by nasal swabs for all residents again tomorrow and will continue to update as the situation progresses.”

The Sept. 3 robocall said, “We added 15 new residents for a total of 31 and one more staff member for a total of 12.

“With (the) Delta (variant) being so much more contagious this is not unexpected and has a good chance of being part of the initial exposure,” it said.

“This will be going on for the next couple weeks.

“Again thankfully most of our staff and nearly all residents are vaccinated so we have a high level of protection.”

Ebling said Sept. 10 he anticipated that residents and staff would receive monoclonal antibody treatments by the next day, with help from the county public health department.

Berry said Sept. 10 that county officials would deliver the treatment on Sept. 11 with help from Jim’s Pharmacy, where the treatments can be obtained.

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