COPLEY, Ohio — Another day, another record number of new coronavirus cases in Ohio as the state cracked the 5,000 mark. According to public health officials, community spread of the virus has raced across Summit County, causing significant outbreaks in at least three nursing home facilities.
The outbreaks at Wayside Farm Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Peninsula, Bath Creek Estates in Cuyahoga Falls and Copley Health Center in Copley have sickened more than 250 residents and staff members since mid-October. The outbreaks at Wayside Farm and Bath Creek appear to have started before the state began permitting visitations at long term care facilities. All three facilities have either suspended visitations or were not allowing visitations prior to the outbreak.
Analogous to how bees pollinate flowers and fruit, staff and vendors have unknowingly spread the coronavirus to nursing homes and other congregate living facilities, according to Summit County Public Health Commissioner Donna Skoda.
"These spikes we're seeing are not because of the visitation that they're doing. It's because we have a lot of community spread," Skoda said. "You have individuals that work in nursing homes that go in and out every day... with wide community spread, you're going to have it in congregate living."
By in large, nursing homes and other long term care facilities have been doing what is necessary to ward off the virus, which has proven to be significantly more deadly for the elderly. According to Summit County health data, more than 25% of long term care patients and staff members that have contracted COVID-19 have succumbed to it.
"Any congregate living site right now, whether it's a group home, a treatment facility -- whatever the case may be, when people are living together, you're going to have community spread, especially if you have people coming from the outside that are not in your bubbles," Skoda said. "You have to be careful when you're bringing contractors in as well that they aren't becoming pollinators between nursing homes. You have to have very secure protocols in place."
CommuniCare, the parent company of Copley Health Center, said in a statement to News 5 that numerous policies and protocols have been implemented or were already in effect prior to the outbreak that has sicked more than 100 residents and staff members. Staff members continue to wear personal protective equipment and both staff and residents are tested daily, the company said.
Additionally, residents are tested regardless of whether they are displaying any coronavirus-related symptoms out of an abundance of caution, the company said. COVID-positive patients are quarantined to special unit that is sealed off from the rest of the facility as well. If a resident tests positive, they are isolated and monitored. If a patient tests positive for the virus and shares a room with another resident, the other resident is also quarantined, the company said.
"As we experience a second wave in the country, especially in the Midwest, we recently had residents test positive for COVID at our Copley Health Center," the company said in a statement. " While unfortunate, given the current level of community spread, it is not unique."
Although the number of new cases of coronavirus across Ohio appear to be showing no signs of plateauing, Skoda said if people were to double-down on their virus mitigation efforts, including washing their hands, sanitizing high contact areas, maintaining social distancing as well has wearing a mask, the curve will eventually flatten and help the most vulnerable populations in the process.
"It's up to all of us to be careful with what we're doing when we're not at work or at school. You should not be doing anything extra. If you go to school or you go to work, that is your activity," Skoda said. "The only way we're going to get to that prevention is if we can give that virus nobody else to infect."