First COVID nursing home outbreak in Blair; affects residents, staff, firefighters

Carter Place in Blair, Nebraska (Photo: Bill Kelly, NET News)
March 26, 2020 - 5:58pm

 Latest news: netNebraska.org/coronavirus

The first outbreak of COVID-19 in a Nebraska assisted living facility has led to a cascading set of effects across the city of Blair and Washington County.

An infected staff member at Carter Place came to work after having attended an event attended by others known to be carrying the coronavirus.


Carter Place in Blair, Nebraska


Memorial Community Hospital in Blair, Nebraska


Terra Uhing, with Three Rivers Public Health, briefs the community during a live feet from Blair City Hall. (Photos: Bill Kelly/NET News)

In the days that followed, residents, staff, and a team of volunteer firefighters came in contact with the virus. Two other people tested positive, and others are awaiting test results or the onset of symptoms.

"We have a very, very dire situation here in Washington County," said Terra Uhing, director of the Three Rivers Public Health District. "We are doing everything in our power to ensure that those residents are being taken care of."

Nursing homes have been hit hard by the coronavirus in some communities, resulting in multiple fatalities. Nebraska has not had any COVID related deaths as of late March.

A week ago, Carter Place requested the Blair Volunteer Fire Department transport a resident to Memorial Community Hospital. The patient, a man in his 70s, later tested positive.

Washington County Emergency Manager Dan Douglas told reporters "the signs and symptoms" for COVID-19 were not apparent when they arrived, so the four-member ambulance crew made the run without the masks or personal protective gear they had on hand.

"Being that they didn't think it was a COVID issue, in the beginning, they weren't fully (protected) like they should have been for COVID type rescue," Douglas said. "That's why we put them into self-quarantine."

So far, none of the firefighters have displayed familiar symptoms. Nurses from the health department check-in via phone to get health status updates from the crew.

The contact investigation conducted by local and state public health officials turned up the likely source of the Carter Place cases. Uhing told reporters a staff member came to work after attending an event where others were infected.

"I know we sound like broken records, but I am pleading with people to please take this seriously," she said. If you were sick, we need you to stay home. If you have been somewhere around a confirmed case, we need you to follow those guidelines."

A second Carter Place resident in her 90s and a health care worker have tested positive. A third resident and another health care worker began showing symptoms, but the tests are not back.

The man hospitalized last week showed considerable improvement, according to Uhing, and could be released Thursday and keep in isolation way from the hospital.

Uhing said Carter Place has been aggressively dealing with the outbreak. All the residents remain quarantined in their rooms. There are no group meals or social events in the facility, and a thorough cleaning of the entire facility is underway.

Enlivant, the company that manages Carter Place, operates over 200 facilities in 27 states. Visiting restrictions at the Blair facility had begun early in March.

Tighter restrictions applied more recently limited friends and family making stops outside one-story, 30-bed facility and waving through closed windows.

As of Thursday, the Three Rivers Health Department reported multiple cases in the three counties it supports. Five COVID-19 cases appeared in Washington County total, two in Saunders County, and Dodge County said a new single case last night.

That will not be the last of it, according to Uhing.

"I would not be surprised if there are more cases today," she said.

Blair's Mayor, Rich Hanson, added, "Take heed because it's here and the spread is inevitable. So please, please do what's asked."

 Latest news: netNebraska.org/coronavirus

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