SALT LAKE CITY – Amid an upward trend in COVID-19 cases across Utah, the state’s most vulnerable population is taking a hit. Of the 20 deaths the Utah Department of Health announced this week, 16 of them were older than 65 years old and eight of them were long-term care facility residents.
“Right now it’s really challenging,” said Dr. Allyn Nakashima, a physician at UDOH who oversees the state’s investigation into COVID-19 cases at long-term care facilities.
“If there’s a lot of community spread, health care workers are part of the community, so they get infection and bring it into the facility,” she said.
Nakashima said since the start of the pandemic about three-quarters of those people who have died have been older than 65 and many of them belong to long-term care facilities. In June, she said her team was responding to two-to-five outbreaks at care facilities a day. One month later, that number had doubled, and they’re struggling to keep up.
“If you have an elderly loved one it’s always a challenge to figure out the best thing to do with them,” she said.
Darren Nord knows the challenge. His uncle had a stroke a few weeks ago and needs around the clock care as he recovers. He ultimately chose to put him up at a facility that offers short-term rehabilitation and long-term care.
Nord said there was a miscommunication with the hospital staff and he didn’t learn until after his uncle had been transferred to the care center that it was one of many facilities across the state that was already dealing with an outbreak of coronavirus cases.
“I said, ‘I would have never transferred my uncle knowing you had that many cases,’” Nord said. “I immediately said, ‘we need to get him out of there now,’ and they said, ‘we’ll do what we can to help you.’”
Over the next couple of weeks, Nord said he received notifications from the facility that the number of positive cases was increasing. But he said his efforts to remove his uncle were unsuccessful. Due to insurance coverage and his potential exposure to the virus, another facility without cases would not accept his uncle and he struggled to find someone who could provide care for him at home.
“It’s a sad scenario when you have somebody that you love and is a relative and you’re saying, hey I don’t want to put them in danger. And I kind of feel responsible,” he said.
On Tuesday, Nord received the bad news that his uncle had tested positive for the virus.
Nakashima said care facilities are doing their best to stop the spread, but it’s a challenge. At many facilities, infected health care workers continue to work with patients who have also been infected.”
“When you see a lot of community spread, that gets translated to COVID getting into the facility,” she said.
Nakashima also said laboratories that run the tests are being overloaded. Test results that used to come to her within 24 hours now take up to six days.
“We can’t get the turnaround time that we did early on and so the outbreaks get bigger,” she said. “Because by the time we get there the spread has already occurred to other patients.”