MOUNT VERNON – The COVID-19 outbreak at Country Court Skilled Nursing Center has expanded, according to Knox Public Health.
The health department reported Monday that 35 individuals – 27 patients and eight staff members – have now tested positive for the novel coronavirus, up from last Tuesday's initial count of 13.
Four nursing home residents have been hospitalized, KPH spokeswoman Pam Palm said.
KPH first reported the Country Court outbreak last Tuesday, when results came back that 10 patients and three staff members had tested positive. KPH then provided Country Court with testing kits, Palm said, and staff members at the facility tested symptomatic patients on-site.
Country Court sent its testing kits to Knox Community Hospital last week to be processed. While it is more expensive to process the tests locally, Palm said, it would have taken far longer to get results back from the Ohio Department of Health or a private lab. Palm said the wait time could have been "up to seven days, and we didn’t have seven days to wait."
"We needed to know so that we could isolate those individuals," Palm added.
KPH received results throughout the week and Country Court responded accordingly. According to the health department's website, 23 infected patients are currently isolated at the long-term care facility. Four are hospitalized, Palm said, including three at Knox Community Hospital and one in Columbus.
Country Court staff members who have tested positive (or have shown symptoms) have been instructed to self-isolate at home. None have been hospitalized as of Tuesday, Palm said.
Of the 23 patients currently isolated at Country Court, the youngest is a 50-year-old male, while the oldest is a 97-year-old female. All five of Knox County's COVID-19 hospitalizations – including the four from Country Court – involve residents 64 or older.
Country Court Facility Administrator Will Levering said last week that his facility is able to treat up to 92 patients at once, although he did not know how many it held at the time of the outbreak. He felt last week that his facility "has the capacity to treat patients" who have tested positive for COVID-19 under ODH guidelines.
“We are taking all of the precautions that the Ohio Department of Health, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have recommended for the protection of the patients and the staff members, and all of the necessary and appropriate care services are being given," Levering said last week. He could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
It's unclear exactly how COVID-19 got into the facility. Knox County Health Commissioner Julie Miller said on Facebook Live last Thursday that she had worked with Country Court to develop a comprehensive COVID-19 prevention plan at the start of the pandemic, just like she had with the rest of the county's long-term care facilities. Country Court's plan was also approved by the Ohio Department of Health.
"I can tell you that the facility had a plan, a really good plan, in place..." Miller said. "Bad things can happen, whether your plans are the best ever or not."
Miller said the virus likely entered the facility through an asymptomatic staff member. Residents are typically not the ones bringing viruses into long-term care facilities, she explained, because their exposure to others on a daily basis is more limited.
"That’s why the governor had ordered the National Guard to go out to all nursing facilities in the state and test employees, because the most likely people to bring an infectious disease into a long-term care facility are the employees that work there," Miller said. "They don’t mean to, they don’t know. One of them probably had COVID and was asymptomatic and went to work."
Even those who wear masks and maintain social distancing in public are at-risk of becoming infected, Miller noted. And if a nursing home employee unknowingly got infected, went to work and subconsciously let their guard down – even for a moment – that could have been all it took to spread the virus to a patient or co-worker.
"We’re human..." Miller said. “And again, if they’re asymptomatic, meaning they’re not showing any symptoms, it would have been very easy to pass that on.”
Miller said Knox Public Health has been working alongside Country Court to provide guidance during the outbreak. She said the facility's management is taking all of the necessary precautions to prevent the virus from spreading further in the facility.
“I can tell you that they are handling the situation as best they can..." Miller said. "They have isolated the patients into a specific area, which they should. It’s assigned. They have now the needed appropriate PPE, or personal protective equipment, for their staff.
"We’re dealing and talking to them on a daily basis and trying to offer them as much support as we can, including additional testing of residents if needed."
Country Court staff members have helped KPH with contact tracing, Miller said. She encouraged community members who have questions about the facility to contact management directly, instead of the health department, because facility administrators will be able to act on those concerns.
"We can (only) do so much," Miller explained. "I have no authority to go in there, and they’re not going to shut a nursing home or a long-term care facility down. But we certainly can support them in all their efforts.”
The outbreak at Country Court, located at 1076 Coshocton Ave. in Mount Vernon, is believed to be Knox County's first at a long-term care facility. But it's far from the first in Ohio. According to the Ohio Department of Health, 76 of the state's 88 counties have seen COVID-19 outbreaks at long-term care facilities since April 15, when the ODH began tracking such data.
Nearly 8,300 nursing home residents and 4,300 staff members have tested positive for the virus in Ohio. As of July 22, the state had recorded 1,868 long-term care facility deaths due to COVID-19 (roughly 55 percent of the state's total). While confirmed cases are trending younger nationwide, older citizens are still far more likely to die from the virus, according to CDC data.
Knox County had recorded 134 coronavirus cases as of Tuesday, according to KPH. Ninety-six of those cases – 72 percent – have come since July 1.
The county currently has 66 active cases, with 66 having recovered. Five residents are currently hospitalized with COVID-19, and two have died.