On November 11, 2020

Nine Covid cases at Rutland nursing home; state scrambles to control outbreak

Mike Smith, secretary of the Agency of Human Services, at a Covid-19 press briefing on Aug. 18. Photo by Mike Dougherty/VTDigger

By Tom Kearney/VTDigger

State officials confirmed Tuesday that there’s been a Covid-19 outbreak at the Rutland Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center, which offers skilled nursing care.

Eight residents and one staff member tested positive for the virus, and steps are being taken to limit further exposure for residents and staff members. Personal protective equipment has been deployed to the nursing home, said Michael Smith, secretary of the Agency of Human Services, during the state’s twice-weekly press conference on Tuesday.

“We tested all patients, residents and staff members on Sunday, Nov. 8,” said Dr. Richard Feifer, the nursing home’s chief medical officer. “We will also complete whole house testing again on Wednesday, Nov. 11, Friday, Nov. 13, and then again on Sunday, Nov. 15.”

Smith said department officials were meeting with the nursing facility’s leadership as the press conference was going on, “to see what the needs are and how we could react. I know that the rapid response team that we developed way back in April for these kinds of outbreaks has been deployed. And we’ll know more probably in the next few hours or so of what we’re going to do.”

“During this pandemic, we have been stringent with restrictions and a whole host of other precautions,” Feifer said. “As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services began providing protocols and guidelines for the coronavirus, we have diligently followed them and, in many cases, have gotten out in front of public health guidelines, adopting even more stringent infection precautions than were recommended at the time.

“We also continue to follow the direction of the Vermont Department of Health in an effort to contain and minimize the spread of the virus. The center has also had two unannounced infection control surveys with no deficiencies.”

The Rutland outbreak may lead to greater testing at similar facilities around Vermont, particularly as Covid cases are on the increase in Vermont.

“The number of times that we test per month may be increased, given what we’re seeing with the rise of the virus to date,” Smith said.

Because of that increase — 46 new cases and 12 hospitalizations on Monday alone — Vermont has ordered a universal 14-day quarantine for anyone entering the state for anything but essential travel.

“If you don’t need to travel right now, don’t,” said Gov. Phil Scott.

The state had been relying on a travel map — people from counties with high Covid-19 caseloads had to quarantine, while others did not.

Travel is seen as a major risk for Covid outbreaks because the virus is on the rise. The state predicts a 79% rise in cases nationally and a 105% rise in cases in the Northeast in the next six weeks, according to forecasts presented by Mike Pieciak, commissioner of the Department of Financial Regulation. Already, the U.S. has recorded more than 10 million cases, the most of any nation, and just added 1 million cases in just 10 days. The U.S. is now averaging 112,000 new cases per day.

Rutland Healthcare & Rehabilitation Center, which is part of the Genesis nursing home network, provides post-hospital, short-stay rehabilitation, long-term care services and professional nursing care.

Feifer said the Rutland facility has taken extensive steps to keep residents and staff members safe. Among them:

Screening residents and patients for symptoms three times a day.
Actively screening and taking temperatures of all staff upon building entry,
Requiring all staff to wear personal protective equipment.
Restricting visitation.
Canceling all outside medical appointments except for medically necessary, time-sensitive and lifesaving treatments, such as dialysis and chemotherapy.
To make things easier for families, making it possible for families and loved ones to have video conferencing calls using Zoom technology.
Notifying patients, residents and families and updating them via regular video conference calls.

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