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Masonicare in Wallingford dealing with COVID-19 outbreak of the fully vaccinated

After enjoying months of little to no infection, Masonicare suddenly realized they had a big problem when a staff member who wasn’t tested positive for COVID-19.

WALLINGFORD, Conn. — A Wallingford nursing home now believes they’ve contained an outbreak of COVID. In all cases, the new infections occurred in people who were fully vaccinated. With the Delta variant spreading, could it be a sign of things to come? 

After enjoying months of little to no infection, Masonicare in Wallingford suddenly realized they had a big problem when a staff member who wasn’t feeling well, tested positive for COVID. 

Family members with loved ones inside say they became worried. 

"I was just scared to death that I was going to lose her," said Skip Ziebell, who's sister, Pearl, is in the same building at Masonicare where the outbreak occurred. 

Skip was looking forward to visiting his sister.

"Anyway, thank God, they moved her out. And with the antibodies she has she should be okay," said Ziebell. 

Pearl is in her 80’s, already had COVID back in December, and got vaccinated. She tested negative this time and was moved off the contaminated floor. "Yeah, it’s been a tough year," he said.

Ann Collette is the Vice President of Strategy at Masonicare. 

She said, "I was told that we had an employee who had not felt well and ended up testing positive which results in us immediately testing our unit." In all, 14 residents and five staff on the third floor of their Ramage building tested positive. They were all vaccinated.

"A big contrast to last year is nobody appeared to be very sick," said Collette.

But with milder symptoms, that also means the virus is harder to detect. Masonicare is testing the entire facility weekly and testing that unit, daily. Masonicare was one of the first healthcare facilities to mandate staff vaccination as a condition of employment. 

"We need to do what’s right for our residents and if this isn’t something you can do than maybe you need to rethink healthcare. It’s that important," said Collette.

Statewide, 69.3% of the staff in Connecticut nursing homes are fully vaccinated. But there are concerns that making it mandatory across the board may lead to further staffing shortages. 

Matt Barrett, the Executive Director of the Connecticut Association of Healthcare Facilities said, "We have reports from some nursing homes that they are not even able to take hospital admissions because of an inability to secure staffing to meet the needs of their residents."

From July 7 through July 20th, Connecticut’s 213 nursing homes recorded six new resident COVID cases and 19 cases among staff. There were zero deaths. 

"Even today, Connecticut nursing homes have a requirement that unvaccinated nursing home staff must be tested at least monthly if the prevalence of COVID is under 5%. That’s where we are now. It will go to weekly testing if we go over 5%," explained Barrett.

Families are just hoping that after more than a year of isolation and loneliness, further visitor restrictions won’t be imposed. "I can tell you, the loneliness. My sister was overjoyed when she did see my wife and I," said Ziebell.

Nursing homes say they have learned a lot over the past year and a half, so any outbreak they see now won’t be as bad as before. They can get test results much quicker, they have an ample supply of PPE, and will quickly mobilize booster shots for the vulnerable if and when they get the green light.

   

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