SALT LAKE CITY — San Juan County health officials are working to contain an outbreak of COVID-19 at a long-term care center in Blanding.
At least 25 residents and staff have tested positive for COVID-19 with many of those exhibiting symptoms, according to San Juan County Health Director Kirk Benge.
He said a health care worker employed by Four Corners Regional Care Center tested positive around July 1. Health department officials became aware of the person’s possible exposure through contact tracing, although Benge wasn’t certain about the specifics.
“It was clear right away that we had a case of someone working in the nursing home,” he said. “So we, probably simultaneously, with the employee contacted the care center and had a conversation about (how to handle any possible exposure).”
Almost immediately, the Utah Health Department became involved as 234 of the more than 300 licensed long-term care facilities have been impacted by COVID-19, with 184 of those centers resolving all active cases.
As of Thursday, 668 residents and 535 health care workers and staff have tested positive for the novel coronavirus. Of Utah’s 205 deaths, 86 were residents of long-term care facilities.
While care center employees began isolating those residents and staff who had direct exposure to the staff member who worked at least one shift when she was likely contagious, plans were being made to test anyone who showed symptoms or was exposed and wanted to be tested.
“It is my understanding that on Saturday or Sunday, two individuals did develop coughs,” Benge said. “Facility staff brought them to the local hospital to get them tested, and we were made aware Monday morning that those two individuals did test positive.”
Benge continued, “After a quick consultation, we opted to send a team up there, rather than make anyone possibly sick or exposed come to the hospital, and we decided to test all of the residents.”
Nurses from Utah Navajo Health System, Blue Mountain Hospital and public health nurses volunteered to test residents and staff on Monday, although their primary focus was residents.
By Wednesday morning the number of positive tests has climbed to 25, and state officials tried to help with resources and a strategy to contain the outbreak.
“We defer to their best judgment,” he said. “As you know, it’s a pretty confined population, so the risk to the general public is minimal. But due to the nature of the facility and the vulnerability of the population, it’s something we take very seriously. We’re really saddened that this happened this way, and that so many people were involved.”
A number of staff have tested positive and the facility administrators told Benge they may need help caring for residents due to quarantine restrictions.
“There is a team (trained in this type of situation) enroute to assist the facility as we figure out these types of logistical issues moving forward,” Benge said. “We’ve also been in contact with local hospitals and clinics to see if there are local resources that could assist the facility, at least temporarily.”
San Juan has 441 cases with 11 deaths and 60 hospitalizations, although most of those cases are due to the fact that part of the Navajo Nation is in the county’s boundary. The Navajo Nation has experienced one of the worst outbreaks in the country, and 383 of those cases are overseen by Utah Navajo Health System.
When a patient needs to be hospitalized, Benge said they are almost always flown elsewhere. Patients go where their insurance, doctor or family prefers, including hospitals in Colorado, New Mexico and Utah.