NOVATO, Calif. – Nursing homes- with their vulnerable residents- might seem ideal for COVID-19 testing. But critics say testing is spotty at best, and often launched only after people are sick and dying.
“We have seen flare-ups in the total number of positives, not just patients, but also staff members,” said Governor Gavin Newsom, devoting much of his Friday briefing to the needs of seniors.
“More testing will provide more clarity and more transparency,” added Newsom.
At congregate living facilities, from assisted living to skilled nursing, residents have been quarantined in their rooms for almost two months.
They cannot leave and their families can’t come inside to visit.
“I miss playing cards and all the things we used to do together, ” called out Gail Stefani, outside the second-floor window her mother Beverly, 86, a retired school teacher.
Stefani visits her mom’s assisted living facility in Novato every day.
The two women can see each other, while they chat on the phone, which is reassuring.
“It’s really hard not to see your parent, ” said Stefani. “All that time they take care of you, and now at this crucial moment, I’m on the outside.”
Millions of families are worried about loved ones in care facilities, and frustrated that testing is almost nonexistent, for residents but especially staff, who come and go.
“They’re just health care workers, and they could be asymptomatic, infected but they don’t know,” said Stefani. “They could unwittingly pass it on, so I’m confused about that.”
This week the California National Guard sent troops- including medics and nurses- to five Southern California nursing homes ravaged by illness and death.
“We want to make them comfortable, to hopefully extend the life of someone who’s critically ill,” said Lt. Jonathan Shiroma, Guard spokesman.
In Los Angeles County, 40% of coronavirus fatalities have been at senior living facilities.
“We all have a mom or dad who might be elderly, or a grandparent, or vulnerable relative, so it hits you right in the heart,” said Shiroma.
Newsom wants improvement and notes, state officials make daily phone calls to identify facilities before their troubles are acute.
“We’re checking in on staff, we’re checking on number of positive patients, and checking in on deaths, numbers I know are important to all of us,” said Newsom.
Inconsistent testing is a sore spot for many health care professionals.
“If major league baseball teams can get tested, and all of Bolinas can get tested, then why can’t nursing homes?,” posed Peter Rubens, founder of At Home Caregivers, which provides licensed health care providers across Marin and Sonoma Counties.
This month, the village of Bolinas found the will- and the money- to test its entire community.
Rubens notes, his roving aides and staff in the facilities they visit, have no protocols other than their temperatures being checked on entry.
“The unsung heroes in this whole travesty are the caregivers,” said Rubens.
“They’re the people who make these buildings work.”
For Gail Stefani, window visits with her mom are better than nothing, but they are always tinged with disappointment and fear.
“I just feel like I’m supposed to protect her now and I really can’t, ” said Stefani, before saying her goodbyes.
“I miss you and I love you mom,” to which Beverly responded, “I love you too.”