While COVID-19 cases remain fairly low, we cannot forget the importance of protecting the most vulnerable populations in Mesa County. As we reflect on the news nationwide, most of the worst COVID-19 outbreaks have been within congregate care facilities – residential settings with 24-hour staff, like assisted living, jails, and group homes. We are fortunate to have had no congregate care COVID-19 outbreaks in Mesa County.

We’ve taken very substantial measures in Mesa County to ensure safety within our facilities where contamination and spread could occur quickly and aggressively. Community collaboration and strict protocols have been instrumental in our success, along with the advantage of time to prepare.

It’s imperative that each facility determine its residents are healthy and employees do not have symptoms so there is a healthy and safe baseline as a starting point. 

If symptoms are present, an isolation plan—which has been required as part of the Stay-at-Home and now Safer-at-Home —must be implemented immediately. An isolation plan is exactly what you think when you hear the term, a plan to effectively isolate the sick resident in a safe manner so as not to contaminate others and spread the virus. Partial isolation is already being implemented at congregate care facilities, even in those where no disease is detected, because congregate dining and socializing are not allowed during this time. In most cases, meals are being delivered and consumed in the residents’ personal rooms. This also means that visitors have been limited and, in some cases, not allowed at all if the resident already suffers from a compromised immune system or has respiratory problems. 

Isolation has been a difficult reality for many residents who live in senior congregate care facilities. As the trend in car parades has grown to celebrate birthdays and send well wishes to teachers or friends, employees at long term care facilities have started organizing parade routes outside residents’ windows as a creative way to connect and bring good cheer at a safe distance.

Each time employees return to the facility for a shift, they pose a new risk to the residents they serve. In an effort to mitigate that risk, employees, as well as vendors and other essential workers necessary to run these facilities, must undergo a health screening prior to entry. Some facilities are taking temperatures as part of that screening, as one of the most common symptoms of COVID-19 is a fever. Once employees and essential workers are cleared to enter, masks must be worn at all times and their movement within the facility is limited to relevant areas, to avoid cross-contamination if an employee or resident were to become sick. 

Residents are also screened frequently, and each facility must have an approved transportation plan ready to be implemented should any resident develop severe symptoms that require hospitalization.

Mesa County Public Health has a team dedicated to working with congregate care partners in the community to ensure they have the guidance they need to continue to successfully follow protocols. It is our combined goal to protect the most vulnerable residents from the devastating effects of COVID-19, and we’re fortunate that we have had successful collaboration every step of the way.

For more information on congregate care guidance from the state, please visit: Safer at Home, Guidance for Long Term Care Facilities and other Congregate Care