Vaccinated residents of Heritage Place had just started reuniting with their families in person last week, some for the first time in a year.
That was until yesterday. A vaccinated staff member tested positive for COVID-19 and the hospital-owned eldercare facility has put visits on pause until it can test all its residents.
Administrator Sandi Crawford said they’re hoping it’s a fluke, since that staff member has no symptoms, has already had COVID-19 and has been vaccinated. The case was picked up during routine testing.
“We had three days of residents and families being able to touch," she said. "And we actually got a lot of visits in and had multiple visits scheduled for the following week when we got this positive result. So we’re hoping to be able to resume next week and just kind of carry on where we left off.”
Most Heritage Place residents are vaccinated. Thirty-six of the facility’s 49 residents have gotten their shots and Crawford said about five more have agreed to get them going forward.
She thinks they may be motivated by the facility’s visitation policy. Under the current phase of guidelines from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, all residents are allowed to see visitors. But only vaccinated residents can touch them.
Between February and last week, Heritage Place allowed one-on-one visitation behind plexiglass barriers. Before that, visits took place over Zoom or on either side of glass doors.
Crawford said the joy in the air was palpable when in-person visits resumed.
“We had gotten the guidance on the 10th, which was late in the afternoon Wednesday, and we had a plexiglass visit going on," she said. "And the person being visited had been vaccinated so we were able to remove the plexiglass and let those people touch for the first time in about a year.”
Most residents in Heritage Place have already had COVID-19. Residents were placed on lockdown late last year during an outbreak that led to four deaths.
But even if residents do pick up COVID-19 this time around, the new guidelines in place allow facilities to isolate those who are positive without limiting visitation for all residents.
“It does not mean that you cannot open for visitation," Crawford said. "It just means that, depending on who has been exposed or who was positive and how you have your units set up in the facility, and vaccinated versus unvaccinated, depends on who would be allowed to visit.”
Last month, a Juneau nursing home saw a COVID-19 outbreak. But most of the seniors there had already received both vaccinations and were largely symptom-free.
Crawford said no residents at Heritage Place are showing symptoms of COVID-19.