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Some San Diego County Senior Care Centers Now Have Limited Access To Coronavirus Test Kits

The coronavirus that causes COVID-19 is seen in yellow, emerging from cells (...

Credit: National Institutes of Health

Above: The coronavirus that causes COVID-19 is seen in yellow, emerging from cells (in blue and pink) cultured in the lab. This image is from a scanning electron microscope.

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But with elder care facilities nationwide becoming hot spots for outbreaks, experts say it is very likely too little too late to prevent COVID-19 in local centers.

Aired: March 24, 2020 | Transcript

Some senior living communities in San Diego County now have limited access to test kits to screen residents for Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

But with elder care facilities nationwide becoming hot spots for outbreaks, physicians and those who operate local facilities are acknowledging that the limited testing will almost assuredly be too little too late.

That reality poses a predicament for everyone who has contact with a Covid-19 carrier, whether it’s a front-line caregiver or a potential patient.

“The problem is you can carry the virus for up to two weeks and not show any symptoms,” said Robert Demonte, a geriatric specialist at Scripps Health in La Jolla.

And when it comes to seniors, it’s especially dangerous. The virus has devastated some elder care facilities — most notably in a facility north of Seattle, where 129 cases have been reported and 35 have died.

Nationwide, people between the ages of 75 and 84 have a 4.3 percent death rate from Covid-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is more than 10 percent for seniors 85 and older.

“Residents in nursing facilities have been affected more than any other group and account for a large share of deaths,” according to a news press release from the Kaiser Family Foundation. “These residents’ physical and mental health conditions, facilities’ ability to deal with infectious disease, and occupancy rates are all important considerations when thinking about addressing the spread of COVID-19 in nursing homes and other vulnerable populations.”

As of Monday, county officials said they’re unaware of any cases tied to local senior care facilities, which started banning visitors nearly two weeks ago. But experts agree that it’s just a matter of time, even with the increased testing.

The kits will only be used on elderly people who are actually experiencing COVID-19 symptoms such as fever, dry cough and fatigue.

At Casa Aldea Senior Living in Santa Luz, executive director Rob Johnston said many residents are following the news on the coronavirus closely and socially distancing on their own.

“A lot of them are coming up to me and asking, `What’s the latest?’” Johnston said.

The county’s public health nurse teams are also available to test if there is a suspected case at a senior facility.

One of the communities that has the tests on-site — Belmont Village Senior Living — won’t use the kits on employees.

Employees at Belmont and other senior facilities in the county are screened for temperature and other symptoms before and after their shifts. If a worker shows symptoms, they will be sent into self-quarantine outside the building.

Listen to this story by Amita Sharma.

Editor's Note: Amita Sharma's mother is a resident of Casa Aldia Senior Living.

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Photo of Amita Sharma

Amita Sharma
Investigative Reporter

opening quote marksclosing quote marksAs an investigative reporter for KPBS, I've helped expose political scandals and dug into intractable issues like sex trafficking. I've raised tough questions about how government treats foster kids. I've spotlighted the problem of pollution in poor neighborhoods. And I've chronicled corporate mistakes and how the public sometimes ends up paying for them.

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