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Austin Needs State's Help To Combat COVID-19 In Nursing Homes, Escott Says

Michael Minasi

Staff working at multiple facilities is contributing to an outbreak of COVID-19 in the region’s nursing homes, Interim Austin-Travis County Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott said Wednesday.

So far, 15 nursing home residents and at least one staff member have died, accounting for 16 of the 27 reported deaths in Travis County. Overall, 96 residents and 67 staff members have contracted the disease.

Escott has ordered testing for the entire staff at one nursing home. He is also discouraging employees from working at multiple facilities, particularly those with outbreaks. He stopped short of ordering staff to do so, because of concerns about personnel shortages.

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“This is why we’re asking the state for new staff, for staff who don’t normally work in nursing facilities, so we don’t have a domino effect into other facilities," Escott said at a news conference. “Again, this crisis has been going on regarding nursing home staffing long before COVID-19, and I think COVID-19 is certainly highlighting some of the vulnerabilities that have been present for quite some time."

There are eight nursing home facilities that have what is considered a cluster of outbreaks. Escott previously had said he is asking the state to send strike teams to four facilities with the highest number of cases, including one that has 35 residents and a number of staff members infected. That team would include clinicians, nurses and nursing assistants, but also support staff like maintenance workers and kitchen workers.

“In the interim, while they are still working on identifying those resources and how to deploy them, we are looking to contractors locally so that we can supplement the staffing and get these facilities as much support as possible, including PPE and other equipment that they need,” he said.

Escott said state privacy laws preclude Austin Public Health from releasing the names of facilities. He has ordered facilities to notify patients, families and staff in cases of an outbreak, which is in accordance with new federal guidelines. Nursing homes will also be restricted from receiving new patients or returning patients to the facilities, until the outbreak is under control.

“Primarily, we want to reinforce the defenses of those that do not have COVID-19 yet, because I think that if we can prevent it from ever getting in the door, we're going to be much more effective at managing this situation as a whole,” Escott said.

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Samuel King covers transportation and mobility for KUT News.
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