Note: The Shawnee Mission Post is making much of its local coverage of the coronavirus pandemic accessible to non-subscribers. (If you value having a news source covering the situation in our community, we hope you’ll consider subscribing here).
Three senior living facilities – in Overland Park, Olathe and Lenexa – are experiencing a spike of COVID-19 cases that have resulted in six of the total 11 coronavirus-related deaths in Johnson County so far.
County officials released more information Wednesday on a recent uptick in cases in two memory care facilities and one independent living area, saying that 33 persons, including staff and residents, have had positive tests for the novel coronavirus infection.
All of the deaths were among residents.
The two memory care facilities are Forest Creek of Overland Park and Homestead of Olathe. Lakeview Village of Lenexa also has reported cases in its independent living section, said Dr. Sanmi Areola, head of the county’s Department of Health and Environment. The Lakeview cases have been among a group of residents who met regularly to play bridge, Areola said.
He declined to break down the number of cases or deaths at each facility in order to protect privacy and avoid stigmatizing the residents.
Since learning of the positive tests, the health department has stepped up efforts to contain the spread and the facilities have been cooperating, Areola said. All non-medical visits have been stopped, and the centers have taken steps to prevent group gatherings among residents. The centers also have been advised against admitting new patients for the time being, he said. And any staff that has tested positive are staying home, he said.
There are 150 such facilities in Johnson County and once the outbreak became apparent, the public health department sent testing kits to 40 of them, he said. Eighty of the centers were represented at a webinar the county held on Monday, he added.
But containing an outbreak in senior living facilities presents particular challenges, Areola said. Memory care patients may not understand the reason physical interactions are being cut off. And in the case of Lakeview, some independent living units are in duplexes and cottages, where visiting can’t be as easily monitored.
The county health department has also procured more tests for residents and staff, and prioritized getting them enough personal protection equipment, Areola said.
“If we remain diligent and respect the instructions we will be out of this quicker than if we don’t,” he said, adding that not following rules on distancing will prolong the emergency.
The outbreak was not shared with the public until health officials were asked about it Tuesday. County commissioners got an email April 3 that provided few details and was also not shared publicly.
Areola said he waited to talk publicly about the cluster because the investigation was ongoing and data was changing rapidly. Health officials wanted to have enough information to be able to answer questions, he said.
Moreover, the nature of the disease makes it hard to get that information. Some people who are pre-sympomatic or asymptomatic can still spread the disease, even if they don’t suspect they have the virus. For instance, Areola said the first test of a suspected case in one of the facilities yielded a negative result. But five days later, that same person tested positive.
Since the positive cases were discovered, the county was able to get more tests from the state health department and will continue to focus its resources on nursing homes and other front-line workers, he said.
While testing materials have been hard to come by since the start of the pandemic, Areola reported Wednesday afternoon that the bottlenecks in the system seem to be loosening up.
The county got 500 tests recently from Quest Diagnostics and expects another 500 soon from the same source. The state health department sent 200, and more may be on the way from Olathe Health Systems, he said.
The county currently has 1,100 swabs on hand.