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Retirement homes and assisted living facilities are protecting the elderly as officials urge extra precautions.

PMG PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Residents look at artwork  at Marquis Post Acute Rehab Center in Tualatin last year.

Care facilities in Washington County are taking steps to protect elderly people as the novel coronavirus spreads.

On Feb. 28, the same day Oregon's first presumptive case of COVID-19 was announced, The Springs Living at Tanasbourne in Hillsboro asked visitors with cold- or flu-like symptoms to not come into the community. According to the assisted living facility, employees and residents must answer screening questions about potential exposure to limit any unnecessary spread of the illness within The Springs.

"We took some precautionary steps over a week ago by pulling all of our public self-serve areas, such as coffee stations, salad bars, cookie stations (and) fruit stands," said Jay Leo, president of The Springs. "While they're available upon request, (we're) just trying to minimize those points that may exchange some potential illness."

Leo added that the community is also trying to minimize large group gatherings. As for feedback from families and residents, Leo has heard positive comments and is willing to work with families.

"If we can support a virtual type of gathering, whether it's Skype (or) FaceTime, we'd be more than happy to support those type of exchanges," Leo said.

What if COVID-19 reaches the facility?

"There would be no more dining operation in our dining rooms," explained Leo. "We've got a plan for one-time use containers, how we dispose of waste, and how to wash an individual's clothing and sheets in the event of isolation."

Other care facilities in Hillsboro are also taking the same precautions. Michelle Tucker, who is a resident care manager and nurse administrator at Harmony Guest Home, said the retirement home has been limiting who can come into the facility since last week.

"People have been pretty good about whether they should visit or not," said Tucker.

She added, "They're either calling or asking in the office before they go into the unit. (People) have been gracious about understanding we don't want them to be here if they're not feeling well."

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, older adults and persons who have underlying chronic medical conditions are at greater risk for more serious complications from COVID-19.

During a Monday, March 9, afternoon press conference, Oregon Health Authority Officer Dean Sidelinger said health officials are consulting with those who sponsor large gatherings to assess the financial and other impacts of restricting them.

Sidelinger also said older adults who are most at risk should not attend such gatherings.

For 94-year-old Marilyn Winterbourne, who resides at Jennings McCall Center in Forest Grove, she feels positive with number of precautions her retirement home is taking against the virus.

"Anything that they can do to keep us safe is what they need to do here, because there's a lot of us that live here," said Winterbourne. She has lived at the center for two years.

Despite the center doubling up on its cleaning schedule, Winterbourne said it is still limiting activities as an extra precaution.

"They're not limiting inside activities, but there are no outside activities such as going to a play or something like that," she added.

The News-Times reached out to the Jennings McCall Center for comment but did not receive a response before press time as to other precautions the retirement home is implementing for residents.

As for other facilities in the county, Marquis Tualatin Assisted Living in Tualatin is closely motoring COVID-19. Marquis is currently screening all visitors to its facilities, and visitation hours are restricted from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Visitors must fill out a form from the CDC about traveling to restricted countries, list any flu- or cold-like symptoms, and disclose any relation to or contact with people who may have COVID-19.

"Family members are very pleased that we're taking precautions and doing extra cleanings and screenings," said Mary Davidson with Marquis Tualatin Assisted Living. "It hasn't reached the point where we're limiting visitation to family only, but we did make phone calls to every single family member … to make them aware of the protocol and changes to visiting hours."

Oregon's first presumptive case of COVID-19 was announced Friday evening, Feb. 28, in a Washington County resident with ties to the Lake Oswego School District. By Monday morning, March 2, two other cases in Oregon had been reported, including a second case in Washington County.

Days later, Gov. Kate Brown declared a state of emergency. "I find that the novel infectious coronavirus has created a threat to public health and safety and constitutes a statewide emergency," the governor said Sunday, March 8.

Statewide, health officials said 14 people have tested positive for COVID-19.

State and county health officials released few details about those infected. They confirmed one case involved a student from a Hillsboro middle school, where cleaning crews worked Sunday to prepare for the school to open as usual Monday morning, March 9.

As of this week, both state and federal regulators have also started reinforcing illness prevention reviews at all nursing, assisted living and residential care communities statewide, including those providing memory care.

This statewide inspection initiative is designed to help prevent the spread of coronavirus, or COVID-19, in facilities that care for Oregonians who are among those most susceptible to the virus.

The Oregon Department of Human Services, which has regulatory oversight of long-term care providers in Oregon, assembled the team of more than 70 individuals to conduct these reviews at approximately 670 facilities statewide. In the process of doing reviews, the team will provide technical assistance to facilities on infection control and emergency planning if it is determined that is needed.

"We are dedicated to doing everything possible to work in partnership with care providers to protect vulnerable Oregonians," said DHS director Fariborz Pakseresht on Monday.

While DHS is prioritizing facilities that serve older adults and people with disabilities, the agency also will review emergency plans for other facilities it oversees, such as children's residential programs, Pakseresht said.

All state-licensed long-term care facilities are required to follow infection control protocols and maintain updated emergency plans that include how they will respond to a pandemic.

The team's focus will be adjusted as needed based on the most current information about COVID-19 cases and guidance received from the Oregon Health Authority.

The Office of Aging and People with Disabilities has been in regular contact with the operators of licensed long-term care facilities and has also reached out to individuals who are registered through the Oregon Home Care Commission to provide in-home care to reinforce the importance that they follow guidance on illness prevention.

"At this time, we are focused on prevention because we are fortunate to have no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in a state-licensed care facility in Oregon," said Mike McCormick, interim director of the Office of Aging and People with Disabilities.

"But we also want to do everything we can now so that, in the event we have an incident of COVID-19, we are prepared to minimize its impact," he added. "We are deeply committed to our role of protecting the well-being of vulnerable Oregonians."

The Trump administration held a coronavirus task force briefing at the White House on Monday.

Vice President Mike Pence said inspectors have been deployed in every state to ensure that assisted care facilities follow infection disease protocols.

Pence acknowledged "grievous" loss of life at the nursing home called Life Care Center in Kirkland, Washington, a suburb outside of Seattle. According to a King County public health news release, the total number of reported cases in the county is 116, with 19 associated with the center.

Medicare administrator Seema Verma said the federal government is issuing guidance to nursing homes about upping their screening of people coming into the facilities. Verma added that the facilities should make sure visitors are gloved and have masks on "so that we can protect people that are in the nursing homes."

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