Schools, nursing homes battle COVID

The first round of COVID-19 hit senior citizens especially hard, but the new Delta variant appears to have a larger impact on the young.

Alabama has reported nearly 6,000 new cases since schools returned for in-person learning this month and the state has overtaken Florida for the highest rate of children hospitalized with COVID-19, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Alabama’s coronavirus hospitalization rate for children is currently at 3.41 per 100,000 residents, the highest in the country.

The Fort Payne Board of Education accepted the recommendation of Superintendent Brian Jett to require universal indoor masking by all students, staff, teachers, and visitors to K-12 schools, regardless of vaccination status at an emergency meeting on August 6. The mask mandate, which some parents strongly object to requiring, is scheduled to be re-evaluated on Sept. 3.

Asked for a local update, Jett said, “Currently, a little over 1% of our student population has been reported as positive. We are experiencing an increase in reported cases in our lower grades, and many of our district wide cases have been self-reported by guardians who did not send their children to school when symptoms developed. Staying home when sick with COVID is essential in keeping COVID infections out of schools and preventing the spread to others.”

Jett said the health and safety of students is a main priority at Fort Payne City Schools.

“We are implementing COVID safety measures suggested by the CDC and the Alabama Department of Public Health. We are also actively participating in the DeKalb County COVID Task Force. We encourage everyone who is eligible to receive the vaccine to get one,” he said.

The US Food and Drug Administration on Monday granted full approval to the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine for people age 16 and older. It has been authorized for emergency use by anyone 16 or older since mid-December, and the age limit was lowered to 12 in May. Out of more than 170 million people in the United States fully vaccinated against Covid-19, more than 92 million have received the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.

The elderly were among the first to be vaccinated and it has helped curb outbreaks, at least locally.

Jim Turnipseed, administrator at Crowne Health Care, said last week that 74% of the facility’s residents have been vaccinated. It’s a figure that changes daily as new residents arrive.

“We continue to encourage the vaccine, at no cost to residents or employees,” he said. “I feel confident that it is helping. Most of the outbreaks that are happening in nursing homes are in non-vaccinated staff and residents.”

The practices nursing homes adopted to deal with the virus early on also appear to be limiting exposure.

Turnipseed said they have continued to screen employees daily before starting their shifts. They also require masks be worn in the facility and encourage employees to wear them while out in the community, along with hand washing.

“We have not had a positive resident in six months or longer,” Turnipseed said. “We have recently had two employees test positive, one after returning from vacation. She was immediately sent home. The other had not worked in four days when she tested positive at her personal physician’s office. We immediately began twice a week testing of all employees and all residents. We found no additional positive results, which confirms it did not originate in this facility.”

Crowne is continuing to encourage resident visitations be done outdoors with masks and social distancing required except in end-of-life and compassionate care situations, which occur in a private area. Those visitors are screened before entering.

James Coker, the administrator at Collinsville Health Care & Rehab, said last week that 90% of their residents are vaccinated and nearly 50% of employees are vaccinated with education efforts ongoing.

He is concerned by recently announced federal requirements targeting nursing homes that accept Medicare and Medicaid funds requiring that 100% of employees must be vaccinated.

“If 20% of my employees quit because they object to being required to get the shot, that’s 48 employees. What percentage of those will be nurses, housekeeping, dietary, etc.? Right now, we test them when they come in after taking vacation. In the last 45 days, we had four employees out, but all are now out of quarantine and back at work. Residents are tested twice a week and none have tested positive in a while. Vaccinated residents are tested once a week because our strategies now are based on the county positivity rate rather than an outbreak strategy,” Coker said.

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