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According to data from the Cook County Medical Examiner’s office and area senior-care facilities, residents age 70 and older have been greatly affected by the coronavirus outbreak. 

As of May 5, people in that older age group accounted for more than 1,300 — nearly 63% — of Cook County’s total 2,073 coronavirus deaths.

ManorCare reported on May 4 that it housed 13 residents diagnosed with coronavirus at its Homewood location. The Illinois Department of Public Health’s figures updated May 1 counted 30 cases and 11 deaths at the facility since reporting began.

The IDPH also listed 11 cases and five deaths at Sunrise Senior Living in Flossmoor.

In comparison, Generations at Applewood in Matteson reports 25 cases and five deaths. Brookdale in Orland Park has seven cases with one death. 

There have been nine cases with two deaths at Prairie Green at Dixie Crossing in Chicago Heights. Victory Center of Sierra Ridge in Country Club Hills reported seven cases with one death.

Not all long-term care facilities are listed on the IDPH website. Some are not reporting as they’ve been asked, according to the Cook County Department of Public Health. 

A variety of reasons could lead to higher rates of infection in one long-term care community as compared to another, said CCDPH spokeswoman Kimberley Conrad Junius. Some facilities are doing more testing than others, leading to more COVID-positive diagnoses.

“There could be more people in one facility than another. It is better to look at rates of infection rather than counts alone. We rely on the sites to daily report accurate case and death counts. It is their responsibility to tell us,” Junius said. 

With 118 residents, ManorCare is a larger senior care community. Sunrise does not disclose occupancy of its facilities.

Infection rates can also be higher at facilities whose control practices were lax when the disease first began to spread.

Sunrise expanded its infection control program in February, regional vice president Chandra Stradling said in a statement provided to the Chronicle. Masks, gloves, gowns, goggles and face shields were provided. Staff are wearing masks at the facility and residents are wearing them when possible. 

“We have sufficient (personal protective equipment or PPE) supplies at this time and our internal procurement team continues to work with suppliers to ensure this remains the case,” Stradling said. 

ManorCare began monitoring residents, patients and employees for symptoms earlier this year. Group activities and most visits were eliminated on March 14. End-of-life visitors were an exception. Staff also began wearing masks.

New admissions are on hold at ManorCare and residents are regularly checked for symptoms and a temperature of 99 degrees or higher, which is a more stringent requirement than health department officials have suggested. 

Sunrise prohibits non-essential visitors and restricts new residents from moving in. Residents no longer eat together, with meals instead being delivered to each individual. 

Professional cleaning services are hired to sanitize the building and additional nurses and other staff have been brought on, Stradling said.

Tablets have been made available to residents for video chats with families.

“Our team is working to maintain as much normalcy as possible for our residents and families despite this situation,” Stradling said. 

Stradling said phone calls were made to Sunrise residents and families when the first positive case was discovered in the company’s Flossmoor facility on March 25. A letter was sent later. Regular updates have been sent via phone and email, Stradling said. 

ManorCare’s spokesperson, Julie Beckert, said the company has been in contact with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services to ensure it has the latest information and resources. 

“We have taken significant additional precautions to minimize risk to patients and employees and have had systems and processes in place to help reduce the risks associated with the novel coronavirus,” Beckert said. 

Sanitizing and cleaning processes have been increased and PPE inventories are monitored, and ManorCare is working with its supply chain to make sure it has enough.

ManorCare has an airborne isolation unit for higher risk patients with a dedicated staff using separated PPE and special cleaning, disposal and laundry. 

Both state and county health officials say they have been in contact with ManorCare and Sunrise. 

During Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s daily press briefing on May 4, IDPH Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said the state’s communication includes weekly webinars and, in some cases, staff is physically sent to help. 

“(Senior care facilities have) an older population with multiple comorbid conditions. Unfortunately, (it’s) the highest-risk group in the highest-risk setting,” she said. “We continue to have outbreaks. We continue to send support teams of staff to assist with infection control guidance.” 

Comorbidity refers to situations where people have two or more diseases. People of any age with existing chronic conditions have been especially vulnerable to severe cases of COVID-19.

When CCDPH becomes aware of a new case, sometimes through interviews about hospitalized cases or tips received from first responders, it opens investigations into facilities. If the facility isn’t using the most current infection control protocol, CCDPH provides guidance and helps with acquiring personal protective equipment. 

IDPH gives advice for implementing sick leave policies, employee and resident screening programs and strategies to maintain staffing levels. State officials also help create an inventory of facilities’ volunteers and staff to determine which are non-essential and whose services can be delayed.

A spokesperson for IDPH said its current focus is providing guidance on infection control practices, proper use of PPE and cleaning. The emphasis is on facilities with multiple cases, like Sunrise and ManorCare.

“We are in very close communication with our medical director, clinical support team and local and state health officials about the appropriate steps to serve the best interests of our patients, employees and visitors,” Beckert said. 

“Our employees are working extremely hard and in a challenging environment. They have had to think outside the box to keep families and patients informed and connected, change how we serve meals, deliver therapy and present activities while maintaining social distancing, hygiene practices and wearing (personal protective equipment). They are true healthcare heroes and deserve to be recognized as such.”

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