The Berkeley Public Health Division was notified Monday of the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in a person who had spent time in a Berkeley skilled nursing facility.
City staff immediately began an investigation to identify and quarantine close contacts and to test all residents and employees, according to city spokesperson Matthai Chakko. The city is also assisting skilled nursing facilities in answering questions regarding safety, providing personal protective equipment and preparing in advance for rapid testing if symptoms are reported.
“While we have been anticipating a positive case in one of the facilities, this was the first instance of such a case in Berkeley. It is inevitable that there will be future cases as well,” Chakko said in an email. “Our goal is to take action to limit the spread.”
Lisa Hernandez, the city public health officer, visited nursing homes to tour the facilities and give specific advice on ensuring the safety of the residents, according to Chakko. Hernandez also ordered the facilities to close visitation, require residents to wear masks when not in their rooms and screen all staff and visitors for temperature and symptoms before entry.
Maria Ferrer, a nurse at Berkeley Pines Skilled Nursing Center, said nurses wash their hands frequently, monitor all vital signs of residents and check the temperature of employees before they enter. She noted that there are no positive cases of COVID-19 in the center as of press time.
Other facilities have been creative in dealing with the restrictions. The Chaparral House facilitates visits from its patio, maintaining 6 feet apart with the resident inside and the visitor on the outside, according to KJ Page, the licensed nursing home administrator for Chaparral House. Residents can also use Skype and FaceTime to connect with their families.
“Our hearts are breaking that we can’t hug people and they can’t hug people,” Page said. “So much of what we do is touch and so many of these folks that don’t have the capacity to understand what’s going on pick up on facial expressions, and we have masks now so they can’t see our face.”
Page also said the nurses do their best to entertain the residents through music with a portable turntable and a weekly piano player performance through Zoom. The residents can join from their individual devices. Although volunteers no longer visit, two residents have cats that offer companionship and are monitored for symptoms.
The Chaparral House provided hazard pay to staff, which affected its budget, according to Page. It set up fundraising efforts through YouTube and Facebook and is halfway to its goal of $17,000.
“We want to keep people safe, but by the same token you have to have a quality of life — that’s the hard part,” Page said.