Less than a month after two Denver-area nursing homes began trading residents to separate those infected with the new coronavirus from those without it, the facility designated to house COVID-negative residents has reported 27 cases and two deaths.
On April 13, Avamere Transitional Care and Rehabilitation Brighton — at the time enduring an outbreak — began transferring residents who had tested negative for COVID-19 to its sister facility in Northglenn, Avamere Transitional Care and Rehabilitation Malley. Residents who tested positive at the Northglenn facility were, in turn, to be transferred to a COVID-only unit in Brighton.
The strategy, which some experts said was a reasonable plan to keep the virus from spreading through nursing homes, doesn’t seem to have worked. As of May 13, state records — which include confirmed and presumed cases — showed the Northglenn facility had 14 coronavirus cases and two deaths among residents, and nine cases among staff members.
The Brighton facility’s outbreak was determined to be over as of May 7, meaning cases were no longer spreading inside the home, according to data from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. Only two cases were reported there.
Shawn Raloff, a spokesman for the Northglenn facility, said they tested 51 residents and 40 staff members last week, and found a total of five cases. That brings the total to 13 confirmed cases among residents — one lower than the state’s tally — and 14 among staff, with two deaths, he said.
Residents who are infected still are being moved to a unit treating only COVID-19 patients at the Brighton facility, Raloff said, and staff members are being asked to stay home if they test positive.
“With a large number of COVID-19 infections being asymptomatic, we expect to see case counts rise, but it doesn’t mean that the virus is spreading faster. It means we are doing a better job of testing and learning more about the size of the epidemic,” Raloff said.
The state doesn’t release how facility outbreaks began, so there’s no way to know if the virus arrived with a transferred resident or with an employee who picked it up in the community. Many people don’t show symptoms in the first days of an infection, and tests can give false negative results, making it difficult to identify and exclude everyone who has the virus.
The Northglenn facility was determined to have an outbreak, which the state defines as two or more cases, on May 5. At that time, there were 10 cases and one death among residents, and nine cases among staff.
A former Avamere employee, who said she quit because she felt the facility wasn’t doing enough to stop the spread of the virus, told The Denver Post that supervisors knew of at least one case at Northglenn within days of starting to transfer patients, and at least three as of May 1. She said employees weren’t told the full number of cases, though they were informed if a person they had direct contact with tested positive.
Raloff said Avamere’s homes complied with all laws for reporting cases, and notify residents and their families any time there’s a new confirmed case, or three or more unconfirmed cases of COVID-like symptoms.
The former employee, a nurse who spoke to the Post on condition of anonymity, said she has a condition that could raise her risk of complications, and thought providing staff with surgical masks wasn’t enough to protect them. Northglenn residents were transferred to Brighton if they tested positive, but could infect people before they were identified, and some Brighton residents transferred there didn’t cooperate with the required quarantine period before they started interacting with Northglenn residents, she said.
“Weeks ago, there was a presumed positive and two employee cases. They were not even honest with their own employees on this fact,” she said.
Updated 11 a.m May 20, 2020 Due to a reporter’s error, this story has been updated to correct a statement by a former Avamere nurse, who said supervisors at the facility knew of at least one case at Northglenn within days of starting to transfer patients.