GALION -- The high incidence of COVID-19 in Crawford County is impacting the young and old alike, with outbreaks taking place at social gatherings, nursing facilities and homes.
The Galion City Health Department and nursing home administrators confirmed Monday that 46 residents and staff have tested positive during an outbreak at Mill Creek Nursing and Rehabilitation.
According to the Galion City Health Department, 32 cases have been residents.
A joint press release stated that Mill Creek is working in conjunction with the Galion City Health Department, Galion Community Hospital, and the National Guard Bridge Team to create and execute a treatment plan for residents.
Trish Factor, Health Commissioner for the Galion City Health Department, stated that Mill Creek has been in “constant communication” with the health department. She also said this is the first outbreak in a long-term care facility in Galion.
According to Factor, a Mill Creek resident was hospitalized Wednesday for reasons unrelated to COVID-19. Since all patients admitted to the hospital are tested, Mill Creek learned the patient was infected with COVID-19 within days of being admitted.
“When that one came back positive, what the nursing facilities then do is they do widespread testing,” Factor said.
Mill Creek administered rapid tests to all residents and staff, then followed up with more precise “gold standard” tests.
According to Mill Creek’s website, there are 26 cases currently being treated in the facility. Claire Wukelich, risk manager at Mill Creek, could not provide an exact number of current residents, but said the facility typically houses between 50 and 60 people.
Factor clarified that 14 cases were among staff members at Mill Creek. Five residents have been hospitalized since the outbreak began -- one was discharged back to Mill Creek and one to a sister facility. Two residents have died, but Factor said it will take time to determine whether COVID-19 was a factor.
“Of those five hospitalizations, I do not have all the documentation on them at this point, so they may have gone to the hospital for another purpose,” she said. “We are still trying to verify all of the facts surrounding their cases. It takes a lot of looking through medical charts and cases.”
She said that the health department will make a determination as to whether COVID-19 was a factor based on hospital charts, medical records, reported symptoms and underlying conditions.
Wukelich said the facility implemented all measures recommended by ODH and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to prevent the spread of COVID-19, even prior to state orders. All staff members are screened for illness prior to entering the facility.
Wukelich added Mill Creek has taken additional precautions since the outbreak began, including using an industrial fogger to sanitize large areas of the facility and “strict isolation procedures” for patients who test positive. Residents who have tested positive for COVID-19 are isolated in a separate wing. The employees caring for COVID-positive residents enter through a separate door and do not enter other parts of the building.
“(Mill Creek) has taken additional action steps to protect the residents as well as the staff,” Factor said. “The actual hallway is blocked off. There is a physical barrier from ceiling to floor so that respiratory droplets aren’t coming into other parts of the building.”
Both Factor and Wukelich praised the efforts of Mill Creek’s care workers.
“We’re working absolutely as hard as we can. They are really, really brave souls there,” Wukelich said.
“Nursing homes are doing a phenomenal job thinking out of the box and using the resources they have,” Factor added.
Mill Creek is the latest long term care facility in Crawford County that’s dealing with COVID-19, but Kate Siefert of Crawford County Public Health cautioned against only associating COVID-19 with nursing homes.
“It’s unfortunate how hard it hits the nursing homes when it hits them. But I also want people to understand that these are not our only cases," said Siefert, the county's health commissioner.
Siefert said that Crawford County is seeing high rates of community spread -- about half of new COVID-19 cases are occurring outside of longterm care facilities.
Gatherings of family and friends are contributing to much of that spread. It's also occurring within homes.
“It’s so easy to spread from one household to a workplace and then another household," Siefer said. "We’re seeing a lot of spread where one person gets it and then the next week everyone in the house has it."
Siefert said that the virus' long incubation period contributes to the problem. She said there have been cases in Crawford County in which patients didn't begin experiencing symptoms until 10 to 13 days after exposure.
In other cases, people who are infected often mistake early symptoms for allergies or a cold. More unique symptoms of COVID-19, like the loss of taste and smell, often don't set in until four or five days after symptoms start.
When people think they just have a cold, they aren't as vigilant.
“Thats why we’re seeing so much spread. They don’t feel great, but they don’t feel horrid yet," Siefert explained.
Siefert said the other two outbreaks at Crawford County nursing homes are "past the peak" of infections. Cases were first identified at Heartland of Bucyrus on Sept. 22 and Crestline Rehabilition and Nursing Center on Oct. 9.
Crestline Rehabilitation and Nursing Center did not respond to a request for comment, but Siefert stated the Crestline nursing home has seen a cumulative 21 residents and six staff test positive, including three residents and one staff member last week.
Heartland of Bucyrus currently has two active cases among residents and five among staff, according to data released Monday by parent company ProMedica Senior Care. ProMedica also stated that 24 Heartland residents have recovered.
"We have taken significant additional precautions to minimize risk to patients and employees and have had systems and processes in place to help reduce the risks associated with the novel Coronavirus," said Julie Beckert of ProMedica. "Since we test weekly, we have seen more positive cases but the majority are asymptomatic which allows us to react quickly to isolate and contain the spread of the virus."
“What they are finding is they are having a few that are asymptomatic and then they're having very rapid spread," Siefert said. “I know they're on top of it, its just a highly contagious virus that’s very hard to contain.”