MOREHEAD CITY — With the recent spike in COVID-19 cases, the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services reports no outbreaks in Carteret County long-term care facilities as of Tuesday.
The NCDHHS defines an outbreak as two or more laboratory-confirmed cases of COVID-19 within 28 days. The state reports outbreaks on its site each Tuesday.
County Health Director Nina Oliver said Tuesday in an email, so far, long-term care facilities appear to be doing a good job following the latest guidance to keep some of the area’s most vulnerable residents safe.
“Long-term care facilities have been doing absolutely everything possible to keep the virus out of their facilities,” Ms. Oliver said. “Most facilities follow guidance from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services as well as Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and local guidance.”
Crystal Bluffs Rehabilitation & Health Care Center in Morehead City did report an employee tested positive Aug. 11 and the individual was immediately sent home.
“The staff member is isolating for 14 days,” Crystal Bluffs Executive Director Logan Dunn said Tuesday.
He added that all residents and staff were immediately tested when the case was reported, and all results were negative. Family members of residents were also notified. Visitations were suspended until all test results confirmed there were no other cases.
Residents and staff were again tested this week, with the same results, Mr. Dunn continued.
“We have no active resident cases inside of our facility,” he confirmed.
With the increase in positive COVID-19 cases in the county, Mr. Dunn said the CDC requires long-term care facilities to test all residents and staff more frequently.
“When Carteret County’s positivity rate is over 10%, we test our staff members and residents twice per week,” he said. “Carteret County’s positivity rate right now is 13.5%.”
He added that the CDC calls for weekly testing when the positivity rate is between 5% and 10%, and once per month when it’s below 5%.
The NCDHHS, CDC and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services outline the protocols that long-term care facilities must follow if employees or residents test positive.
If a new case is identified among residents or staff, visitations must be suspended and the facility must immediately conduct outbreak testing. If the first round of testing reveals no additional COVID-19 cases, then visitation can resume in the unaffected areas.
If testing does detect one or more cases in other units of the building, the facility must stop visitation for vaccinated and unvaccinated residents until it can meet criteria to end outbreak testing. However, compassionate care visits and visits required under federal disability rights law will continue to be allowed “regardless of a resident’s vaccination status, the county’s COVID-19 positivity rate, or an outbreak,” according to the NCDHHS website.
Quarantine protocols are enacted as needed depending on the circumstances surrounding a positive case.
Meanwhile, President Joe Biden announced Wednesday his administration will require nursing home staff be vaccinated against COVID-19 as a condition for facilities to continue receiving federal Medicare and Medicaid funding, The Associated Press reports. The new mandate, in the form of a forthcoming regulation to be issued by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, could take effect as soon as next month.
As for current visitation policies for long-term care facilities, Mr. Dunn said as for Crystal Bluffs, “Visitation has not changed. The only protocol that has changed is how often we are testing our residents and staff.”
The NCDHHS recommends facilities, residents and families follow COVID-19 infection prevention protocols, including maintaining physical distancing and conducting visits outdoors when possible.
Mr. Dunn said his facility allows indoor visitation with screening and safety protocols in place.
“What we’re doing is based on CDC recommendations and they are the same for all facilities,” he said.
Those visiting Crystal Bluffs are screened for signs and symptoms of COVID-19 and recent exposure to the disease. Visitors are asked to wear masks, although vaccinated residents may choose to have close contact with visitors and be unmasked.
Those visiting should wash their hands before and after visits. Physical distancing of at least 6 feet is required in most circumstances.
The NCDHHS offers different guidance for fully vaccinated visitors and residents versus unvaccinated or partially vaccinated visitors and residents.
The majority of residents, 98%, at Crystal Bluffs have been vaccinated, according to Mr. Dunn.
Fully vaccinated visitors to long-term care facilities can have close contact without a mask with a fully vaccinated resident, according to NCDHHS. If visiting an unvaccinated or partially vaccinated resident, the person should maintain physical distancing and wear a mask.
Unvaccinated or partially vaccinated visitors “may choose to have close contact” with a vaccinated resident, with both wearing masks. An unvaccinated or partially vaccinated visitor should maintain distancing and wear a mask if visiting an unvaccinated resident.
Contact Cheryl Burke at 252-726-7081, ext. 255; email Cheryl@thenewstimes.com; or follow on Twitter @cherylccnt.