Orange County is seeing a surge in nursing home Coronavirus outbreaks, as the second regional infection wave pushes the area’s emergency medical services to a potential collapse.
The number of senior care facilities reporting outbreaks has nearly doubled over the last month, according to information disclosed through near-daily Medical Health Operational Area Coordination (MHOAC) reports.
A report from Dec. 2 showed 39 facilities reporting outbreaks.
That number was more than 70 by the end of this week, according to the latest one.
The ever-updating data also reveals that total infections between nursing home staff and patients is at more than 7,800.
“We are in the throes of the second wave of this virus. Every hospital I’m aware of is strained to the gills, which also means any healthcare facility with long term, congregate living is likely to have a problem,” said Dr. Thomas Cesario, an infectious disease doctor and former dean of the UC Irvine School of Medicine.
In nursing homes, “you have people going in and out of the facilities — caretakers — and that puts the very population that’s vulnerable to the virus in these facilities at risk,” Cesario said.
“I think that right now, it’s quite likely nursing homes and long term care facilities are caught in the same situation hospitals are in,” he added.
Dr. Susan Huang, an infectious diseases expert, said a number of factors need to be considered before families try to pull their loved ones out of such nursing homes for fear of the spread.
That includes the recent arrival of vaccine shipments to Orange County, and federal health guidelines that nursing home residents and staff be prioritized for it.
“The gateway out of this pandemic is the vaccine. We have two, incredibly safe and highly efficacious vaccines coming out, and the top tier of priority includes skilled nursing homes,” Huang said. “They are at the highest priority, the vaccine is landing imminently for them.”
The county’s Covid-19 public information office didn’t respond to numerous requests for comment Thursday and Friday about the situation in the nursing homes and county plans to prioritize them for vaccinations.
Huang said families with loved ones in nursing homes must also consider whether they’re “capable of providing care for their loved ones” on the level of the skilled nursing care that they might need.
“Are you capable of providing that 24/7 care?” she said, adding it’s “worth considering whether or not the home environment is safer” and whether a household is adhering strictly to public health guidelines to limit interactions with other people.
“Plus, do you have financial means to provide around the clock care?” she said. “It’s not impossible, but it is complicated, and every family needs to make those decisions for themselves.”
Nursing homes proved to be one of the virus’ largest casualties and drivers of the local crisis at the earlier months of the pandemic this year.
Orange County seemed to be coming out of summer case spikes in early Fall, but indications that a second wave of cases was coming for the region appeared around the November Thanksgiving week.
Since then, cases have surged back up, especially in the nursing homes.
The nursing home industry had also lobbied heavily for months to score some type of legal immunity from Gov. Gavin Newsom as the virus exposed accountability concerns at facilities across the state.
That request was criticized in May by nursing home accountability advocates, who said legal action is one of the only safety nets for families of loved ones harmed inside these facilities.
Newsom in the time since has not granted such protections.
Brandon Pho is a Voice of OC staff writer and Report for America corps member. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @photherecord.