MASON CITY, Iowa - One of three statewide COVID-19 outbreaks at long-term care facilities is in Cerro Gordo County, but the outbreak is now contained.
On May 19, a symptomatic resident at the Heritage Care and Rehabilitation Center was tested for the virus and came back positive. As a result, all residents and staff were tested. The center reported 16 positive cases, 13 from residents and 3 from staffers.
During the time of the outbreak, administrator Jessica Fisher says mitigation efforts were immediately enacted to prevent further spread of the virus around the facility.
"We set up wall barriers and had our positive residents behind those barriers. They were on isolation precautions for 10 days from the date of their positive, unless they had symptoms still. We also had an area we called our ELO zone, which was for residents exhibiting symptoms but had tested negative, just to be safe. Testing twice a week, and ramping up our infection control. Handrails, bathrooms, phones, light switches, things like that, trying to hit those more often."
Thanks to these actions, including pausing family visits and communal dining and activities, there are currently no active cases at Heritage. On Thursday, the facility will be able to emerge from the 'outbreak' stage as defined by the state.
While there has been four isolated cases reported at Heritage since the pandemic began, Fisher says this was the first notable outbreak of the virus at the facility. As she's been through an outbreak at another facility last fall, Fisher says this outbreak was different than previous, in part due to the availability of vaccines. She credits the hard team work that went in to mitigate the spread.
"Everybody did really well. As soon as we had a positive, we set things in motion, we got them isolated. That was our priority was to keep them separated from everybody else to hopefully stop the spread, and I feel we did a great job."
As the emergency subsides, Fisher says they're taking a cautious approach when welcoming visitors back. When visits are allowed again, Fisher says visitors will need to call the center to schedule an appointment, and will also be screened.
"We don't want to want to open everything up too quickly and have to go backwards. We're going to try to start with our visitations and get our dining going again. We haven't sat down and tried to figure out one side or the other and how that's all going to work, but we'd like to get them back to some sense of normalcy inside the building."
According to data from Heritage's parent company ABCM Corp., about 98.5% of residents have been vaccinated, with 66% of staff having received a vaccine. Marketing consultant Kara Koster says it's a common pattern seen at other ABCM facilities, and credits education efforts, as well as providing bonuses for staff, to encourage getting vaccinated.
"We believe it's so important. If we had that vaccination rate of 98-100% for our residents, we need our staff to follow suit too. Our residents are doing their part, we want to keep them safe. That's why we encourage, we educate, we give them information."
Across Iowa, two other outbreaks were reported in Des Moines and Audubon counties.
There have been 2,371 resident deaths from long-term care facilities since the pandemic began.