Last week, an ambulance arrived outside Van Vista Plaza Assisted Living in Vancouver, and Robbi Brown immediately thought of the COVID-19 outbreak.
“I wonder if that’s somebody that has symptoms,” Brown recalled thinking at the time.
Brown, 70, has been living at Van Vista for about 2 1/2 years, but life there has been significantly different in the last couple weeks. Brown said the death of two Clark County people living in long-term facilities on Monday night has further heightened anxiousness for those in long-term care.
At Van Vista, meals are being delivered to rooms, and residents have been asked to stay at least 6 feet apart if they want to congregate in a common area. Normally residents like to hang out an hour before lunch to chat, Brown said, but most people are sticking to their rooms now, as the staff has asked.
“We’re losing our ability to gather,” she said. “Our anxieties are high, and that’s to be expected, because of being in that population that is high risk.”
Brown said she understands the restrictions, and she said she feels like the staff is doing a good job under the circumstances. She said she wishes there was more testing available, so residents at long-term care facilities across the state could get tested regardless of whether they are showing symptoms or not.
Health officials have said there isn’t capacity for that kind of testing currently. The state can test upward of 2,200 people per day through Public Health Laboratories in Shoreline, the University of Washington virology laboratory and commercial labs.
But Washington medical providers are giving priority to patients who show symptoms. Clark County Public Health Officer Dr. Alan Melnick said at a press conference last week that it’s difficult to open testing up to patients without symptoms, saying it’s not an effective or efficient way to test, especially when large-scale capacity doesn’t exist.
No person at Van Mall or the small adult family home — the places the two people who died Monday night lived — has been tested for COVID-19 yet. Everyone — staff and residents — from the small adult family home has been quarantined and placed under active monitoring for two weeks, which means Public Health will call them and inquire about symptoms.
A small number of close contacts of the confirmed case from Van Mall have been quarantined and placed under active monitoring. But no one will be tested until they show symptoms.
Public Health officials say that if the close to 180 residents at Van Mall were tested the day after the case was confirmed, and all tests returned negative, it would only mean that those residents were negative that day. To be fully accurate, testing would have to be repeated for the hundreds of residents and staff throughout the two-week period.
Instead, health officials are restricting testing to those who show symptoms. If no one shows symptoms during that two-week period, Melnick said, he’s confident no one has contracted the virus.
Brown said she understands Public Health’s reasoning, but she admitted she has her own anxieties about testing. She’s disappointed the federal government didn’t set up better testing protocol from the beginning, so that states and local medical providers could be better positioned. For now, she’s following health leaders’ advice on social distancing and hand hygiene. And she’s occasionally educating her neighbors if she gets the chance.
“We are all a little anxious, but I feel like wisdom and knowledge are the best things we can do to be safe,” Brown said.