SAN DIEGO — On Christmas Eve morning, a woman stood outside Escondido Post Acute Rehab, talking through a window with her 100-year-old mother, a resident of the facility who has been diagnosed with COVID-19.
The two women spoke over the phone for about 15 minutes, waving at one another as two health care workers wearing personal protective equipment worked in the room. The daughter said she was checking on her mom and trying to find out how she was doing after testing positive for the virus while recovering from a dislocated shoulder.
Last week, the nursing home earned the distinction of having the largest active outbreak in a skilled nursing facility in San Diego County.
As of Wednesday, Escondido Post Acute had 111 residents and 70 health care workers who had the novel coronavirus out of a total of 139 residents and 81 staff who had tested positive there since the beginning of the pandemic. The facility has a maximum bed count of 180, according to data from the California Department of Public Health.
Facilities experiencing staffing shortages because of the COVID-19 infections, other illnesses or hiring issues can borrow staff members from other nursing homes or request support from HealthCorp — a medical team established by the state in April 2020 to meet additional health care needs during the pandemic — the National Guard and emergency medical technician units, as needed.
The National Guard deployed to two San Diego county facilities — Stanford Court Nursing Center in Santee in October and Villa Las Palmas Healthcare Center in El Cajon in November — but there are no current or upcoming missions in the county, Public Affairs and Media Relations Director Lt. Col. Jonathan M. Shiroma said via email.
A county spokesperson was unable to confirm whether Escondido Post Acute or any other facility has received additional support staff in December.
The women conversing through the window at Escondido Post Acute represent one of many families who remain apart this holiday season as case rates of COVID-19 continue to climb and the regional stay-at-home order stays in place. Most nursing home visitations have not been allowed for more than a month, since San Diego County was placed in the state’s most restrictive tier in mid-November.
Skilled nursing facilities in San Diego County are now facing the greatest number of active outbreaks since the beginning of the pandemic, though relief may be in sight as nursing home vaccinations, through a partnership with CVS and Walgreens pharmacies, are set to begin Monday.
Public health officer Wilma Wooten announced last Wednesday that there were 48 active outbreaks in skilled nursing facilities, including 16 new ones since last week’s report, bringing the total of novel coronavirus outbreaks to 133.
Unlike outbreaks in community settings, which are defined as three or more related cases from separate households, outbreaks at skilled nursing facilities are deemed active when one resident or health care worker from the facility tests positive for the novel coronavirus. An outbreak is deemed inactive once no one has tested positive for at least two weeks.
Among the facilities with active outbreaks, the largest is at Escondido Post Acute Rehab, a facility that offers both short-term recovery stays and longer-term resident care and has been open since 1967, according to its website.
The newest outbreak makes Escondido Post Acute the top skilled nursing facility for cumulative novel coronavirus cases among residents since the beginning of the pandemic, and ties it with La Fuente post Acute in Vista — known as Astor Healthcare Center in the state’s database — for the most cumulative cases among healthcare workers.
Escondido Post Acute facility administrator Rob Zitsman declined to answer questions about the outbreak. In an email to The San Diego Union-Tribune, he wrote “Thank you for your interest in our facility. I will not be participating in any interviews. My attention is focused on the well-being of our residents and staff.”
As of last Wednesday, fewer than 11 residents and no health care workers at Escondido Post Acute had died from the virus, according to the California Department of Public Health database. The state does not report exact COVID-19 statistics for categories with 10 or fewer cases at skilled nursing facilities.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services reported last week 441,473 confirmed cases of COVID-19 among nursing home residents and 377,228 cases among staff across the country as of Dec. 13.
That’s up from the Dec. 6 report of 409,997 resident cases and 350,711 staff cases.
Novel coronavirus infections have caused more than 86,000 nursing home resident deaths and more than 1,200 health care worker deaths nationwide.
In California, CMS reports that 32,123 nursing home residents have contracted the virus, up from the previous week’s total of 29,603. There have been 5,014 nursing home residents who have died from the virus throughout the state.
In the county’s weekly news briefing on Wednesday, Wooten reported that 2,044 skilled nursing residents and 1,301 staff members in San Diego County have tested positive for the virus, up from last week’s report of 1,744 and 1,105, respectively.
Thus far, 239 skilled nursing facility residents and staff have died from the novel coronavirus in San Diego County, including nine new deaths reported by county officials Wednesday. Deaths related to skilled nursing facility outbreaks account for just over 18% of the total number of novel coronavirus deaths in the county.
Monte Vista Lodge in Lemon Grove is the only facility that has still not reported a single case of the virus among either a resident or a health care worker, according to California Department of Public Health data.