That means the county’s best weapon for public health is often the phone.
Counties, including Contra Costa, provide guidance online. McNitt says she stays in more active touch remotely, calling to dispense practical local versions of the advice handed down by the state and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. For the past several weeks, the best advice she can offer, on topics like how to use space in facilities, screening staff and controlling exposure there, who needs masks, and why -- all of it keeps changing.
“You give people a certain set of guidance, you kind of feel like, you know, like a tiny little sigh of relief, okay, we got that done, and then the very next day, it's like, okay, now there's new guidance, and now we have to kind of start all over again,” McNitt says.
McNitt’s goal is to stay on top of the risks rippling out of these outbreaks, and out of existing stresses in the long-term care system.
Staffers paid lower wages may try to keep working, even if they’re ill. McNitt worries about care home workers who move among several part-time jobs, and might carry the virus without knowing it.
“Residents in more than one facility could be exposed because they often will work at one place during the week and another place on the weekends,” McNitt says.
Care homes with outbreaks now need equipment from counties. Santa Clara County is providing protective gear to Canyon Springs Post-Acute in San Jose after an outbreak there. In Contra Costa, McNitt’s boss, Health Officer Dr. Chris Farnitano, says the health department has requested protective gear for Orinda Care Center from the county’s emergency operations center.
“We’ve already delivered a large supply of that equipment and will continue to support the ongoing needs of this facility for...personal protective equipment,” he said, last Friday.
It’s not clear how long local stockpiles of gear can last. As health departments investigate more outbreaks in elder care homes, the safest guarantee specialists like Louise McNitt can offer is more phone calls.
*This story has been updated to include a breakdown of the number of cases, so far, at Orinda Care, 51: this includes 27 patients, 22 staffers and 2 people who have been sent to hospital. In addition, this story has been updated to reflect the fact that infection control specialists are required at skilled nursing facilities.
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