Clark County confirms over 50 COVID-19 deaths, health district works to help protect most vulernable

Lenora Pass moves around to make sure her N95 protective mask stays in place during her fit test Thursday. BILL LACKEY/STAFF

Credit: Bill Lackey

Credit: Bill Lackey

Clark County has reached a grim milestone of 55 confirmed COVID deaths, over half of which have come from long-term care facilities, according to data from the Clark County Combined Health District.

As of Thursday, combined with probable deaths, the county had recorded 60 total deaths. Of those deaths, 36 have come from long-term care facilities, according to data from the CCCHD. Statewide, 2,800 of Ohio’s 5,033 total coronavirus deaths have come from long-term care facilities, according to the Ohio Department of Health.

“I would tell you that the last couple of weeks have not been pretty when it comes to the number of not only active cases but unfortunately the number of negative results,” CCCHD Commissioner Charles Patterson said.

The health district reported four long-term care facilities in outbreak status as of Wednesday. They are Allenview Healthcare Center, Forest Glen Health Campus, Northwood Skilled Nursing and Rehabilitation all in Springfield and Vancrest at New Carlisle.

The state dashboard on long-term care facilities is updated every Wednesday and reported 126 total current cases of residents and staff in the county.

Mercy Health Oakwood Village, which in early August had the largest long-term care facility outbreak in the county with 63 total resident and staff cases, has the most long-term care deaths in the county with 12. As of Wednesday, the senior-living facility had no active cases, according to data from the CCCHD.

Southbrook Care Center, a long-term and post-acute care facility in Springfield, was the first long-term care facility outbreak in the county. The care center recorded 38 total resident and staff cases and three total deaths at its peak on Aug. 5.

The Springfield News-Sun reached out to Allenview, Forest Glen, Northwood, Vancrest and Southbrook for comment on their outbreaks and did not receive a response. The News-Sun also reached out to Mercy Health about how they handled their outbreak and was told by a spokesperson that they would not be providing a comment.

There are a number of reasons why the county has seen so many deaths, 46 since Aug. 1, Patterson said. But one of the reasons why long-term care facilities have been hit so hard is because residents with comorbidities like diabetes, heart disease or high blood pressure, are more likely to succumb to the virus.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, almost three-fourths of long-term care residents have been diagnosed with at least two of the 10 most common chronic conditions, with more than 50% having high blood pressure.

Residents in long-term care facilities are getting the virus as it spreads in the broader community, particularly from people who show no symptons, Patterson said.

“That’s one of the reasons why it’s difficult for us to get a handle on this because people are like ‘well I feel fine so I must not have it so I’m just going to go about my business,’” Patterson said. “But unfortunately then they don’t wear a mask often enough and get too close to their friends or family then we have it passed on and eventually we have it passed to someone who isn’t asymptomatic, it could be due to chronic illness, or other things that they may have been fighting off recently and their immune system is just little lower. It’s really hard to protect them.”

No Clark County long-term care facilities are allowing visitors, despite Gov. Mike DeWine’s health order allowing indoor visits to restart on Oct. 12. Facilities have opted against restarting visits because of the outbreaks across the county.

That means the only way for the virus to enter facilities is through employees who have unknowingly contracted the virus, Patterson said.

That’s why the health district has started to utilize Personal Protection Equipment fit testing as a way to try to protect those most vulnerable to COVID-19, or those with multiple chronic illnesses in long-term care facilities.

Patterson said the fit testing is valuable not only because it ensures staff are being protected, but also can help prevent staff from spreading the virus unknowingly throughout a facility.

“I’ve heard people say ‘well they are in long-term cares what does it matter’,” Patterson said. “And I say this. If you were hiking through the gorge and you look over and see someone who has fallen and is hanging onto the rocks by their fingertips, do you go over and step on their fingers? Or do you give them, at least give them a shot to climb their way up and give them a chance to be better?”

ExploreDo you have a loved one in a Clark County long-term care facility? We want to hear about your COVID-19 experience.

According to the CDC, it is "essential to have healthcare professionals fit tested during the COVID-19 pandemic” and when fitted correctly N95 masks are able to filter 95% of airborne pathogens.

“This is one of the best tools we have right now,” Patterson said.

In fit testing, the health district makes sure employees wearing PPE are wearing it correctly and have had it correctly sized.

“Fit testing is making sure that the N95 or other respirator, fits your face properly and will protect you,” Patterson said. “It’s not just saying ‘oh you look like you’ll need a large mask, here you go you’re good.' It’s making sure the masks fits your face. It’s making sure the mask doesn’t have gaps.”

Patterson described the importance of the process like this: If you were to go scuba diving, you would want to ensure your wetsuit had no holes, so you wouldn’t want an adult to wear a suit designed for 11-year-old children or someone maybe 100 pounds larger than you.

“Now say I find one that is perfectly sized and you put it on and say ‘this fits like a glove.’ Then you are ready to brace those cold waters because you aren’t afraid that you aren’t protected,” Patterson said. “If the N95 mask you are wearing is too small for your face, it won’t protect you properly and if it’s too big for your face, it wouldn’t protect you properly. But if you get one that’s just right, then you will have the level of protection that you need.”

The health district tests the fit of the N95 by performing tasks like seeing if employees can smell bitters through their masks, making the employee read a long passage to see if masks slide around when speaking and making employees touch their chin to their shoulder to see if there are any gaps when active.

Since starting the testing last month, the health district has offered it to every long-term care facility in the county, Patterson said. Forest Glen has not taken the health district up on their offer, Patterson said.

Forest Glen did not respond to the News-Sun’s request for comment for this story.

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