WATSONVILLE, Calif. (KTVU) - Santa Cruz health officials are trying to trace the origin of a COVID-19 outbreak at an elder care facility. Nine people have died and 61 residents and staff are infected with the global pathogen.
Mary Tegenkamp's 91-year-old mother has been on lockdown inside the Watsonville Post Acute Center.
“Us on the outside, we’re scared to death for our loved ones. We don’t what’s going on and it’s really hard to get information,” Tegenkamp said.
Santa Cruz County health officials confirmed the outbreak at the facility started three weeks ago.
“We don’t know where it started. It’s very likely that it started from a staff member or contractor who came into the facility. But it’s too soon to tell,” said Santa Cruz County Chief of Public Health Jennifer Herrera.
Herrera said nine residents have died so far, with the coroner set to send a death certificate for a 10th victim. So far, 46 other residents have tested positive for COVID along with 15 staffers.
Santa Cruz County has over 2,500 total cases, and officials are conducting contract tracing to determine how the infections within Post-Acute occurred.
“Skilled nursing facilities throughout the nation through the course of this pandemic are known to be a very high-risk location for COVID-19 spread,” said Herrera. Added Stanford University infectious diseases expert Dr. Jake Scott, “We are still dealing with an out-of-control pandemic.”
Scott said as long as cases continue to spike outside of care facilities, those inside are at risk.
“We can’t seal them off completely, because the staff and people who have to visit these facilities come from the community,” said Scott.
County officials say the National Guard has been called in to help supplement staff at the post acute facility since more than a dozen are now quarantined. The pubic is also answering the call.
“In the nursing field, I feel like you have to help out. That’s the purpose of joining the nursing field – you want to help people,” said Bernardo Jaime, who is applying for a job with the Watsonville Post Acute Center’s COVID unit.
Facility management posted a state on its website that said, “Each day we evaluate all of our residents following CDPH and County guidelines to determine who meets the criteria to be transferred out of the unit. This is a positive first step in reducing the number of positive cases in the facility.”
Even so, not knowing eats at relatives of residents almost as tirelessly as the fear of the spreading virus.
“I’m trying to prepare myself that I’m never going to see my mom in person again,” said Tegenkamp.
Health officials said the death count could continue to rise. They said family members can coordinate with staffers to determine if it’s better to leave their relatives inside or take them home.