Coverage of novel coronavirus is supported by the Mick Hitchcock, Ph.D., Project for Visualizing Science, a science reporting project from the Reynolds School of Journalism.
There have been 15 COVID-19-related deaths in Washoe County so far. A third of those deaths are tied to two state-regulated facilities in Reno. KUNR News Director Michelle Billman checks in with Anh Gray, KUNR's public health reporter, for more information about those two outbreaks.
Billman: Let’s start with Lakeside Health and Wellness. What do we know?
Gray: Lakeside Health and Wellness is a senior nursing care facility and a database updated by the [Nevada Department of Health and Human Services] reports a total of 43 confirmed COVID-19 cases at that location. Thirty-eight are residents and five are staff. There have been four deaths of residents there. At one point management had asked staff to reuse masks, and while other health care facilities have also been reusing masks, what was unusual was that staff had been asked to flip them inside out. That was first reported by the Reno Gazette-Journal. It’s also been reported that they have stopped asking staff to reuse masks in that particular way.
Billman: And there was an outbreak at Willow Springs. What happened there?
Gray: Willow Springs is a residential facility for children and teens seeking behavioral or mental health treatment. Based on information from the same state database, Willow Springs has a total 56 confirmed cases — 36 residents and 20 staff. There has been one death of a staff member. Just looking at the numbers at those two facilities, there have been a combined total of five deaths. So that accounts for a third of the 15 total COVID-19 deaths in Washoe.
Billman: What else did you learn from looking at the information in the database?
Gray: As of [Thursday], the Washoe County Regional Information Center reported there have been a total of 572 positive COVID-19 cases in the county. I should note that more than 100 of those cases have recovered. But with regards to the facilities, Willow Springs and Lakeside Health and Wellness account for 99 total COVID-19 cases in Washoe. This means that those two facilities represent about 17% of the total positive cases we’ve had in the county.
Billman: What about further testing at those facilities? Will residents or staff who tested negative be tested again, since they’re living in a community with COVID-19 exposure?
Gray: I’ve asked that question at the Washoe County Regional Information Center press briefings. The Washoe County Health District has not provided more details about the Willow Springs and Lakeside facility outbreaks. They have told me that those are state-licensed facilities and the outbreaks are being investigated by the Nevada Division of Public and Behavioral Health.
Billman: Right, which is why KUNR has filed a public records request to the state, to obtain more information about these facilities, but we’ve been told it will take several weeks before the state can provide that information. In the meantime, what have you learned so far?
Gray: The outbreaks we’re seeing at Lakeside Health and Wellness and at Willow Springs are not unique to Washoe County. We’ve heard stories of similar outbreaks in other residential facilities around the country. And just reviewing the database, and the information that is available there, it seems there are a few other assisted living or residential type facilities in Washoe with COVID-19 cases. I identified five other positive cases at four facilities, and there have been no deaths reported at those facilities.
I spoke with Brian Labus, an epidemiologist with the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. His research focuses on communicable disease surveillance. This is what he had to say:
“First of all, they're going to be at higher risk because they're just in close contact with each other. And it's difficult to separate people when you have a lot of people in a small space, but many of those facilities also take care of people who are medically fragile to begin with,” Labus explained. “So if you're taking care of people that are elderly with a lot of underlying conditions, that's going to put them at higher risk for disease. So if an outbreak does occur, it's going to be much more serious in that population.”
Billman: You also spoke with Reno Councilwoman Naomi Duerr earlier this week about the outbreak at Lakeside Health and Wellness. What did you learn?
Gray: Over the weekend, Councilwoman Duerr learned that Lakeside needed more face masks. She was able to secure some donations from a local business owner, the Reno Fire Department and REMSA, the ambulatory service provider for Washoe County. Earlier this month, a few staff members at Willow Springs had also expressed concerns to me about not having sufficient personal protective equipment, initially. I think both of these outbreaks underscore the struggles these health care workers are experiencing.
I spoke with Grace Vergara-Mactal. She’s the elected executive director of Nevada SEIU Local 1107, a union that represents health care and public workers throughout the state. This is what she had to say about protecting this workforce:
“We’ve been pushing and this has been a campaign that we’ve had from the beginning. They should be providing PPE, or the personal protective equipment, to all the employees they have,” Vergara-Mactal said, “not only for the ones that are directly taking care of the patients.”
Getting enough PPEs has been an issue for many health care facilities statewide and around the country. And at the moment, the state’s investigation into the Willow Springs and Lakeside Health and Wellness outbreaks are pending.
Editor's note: The image of Willow Springs included in this story is a screenshot from Google Maps. View this map.