Veterans Home of California with almost 800 aging residents, has had no COVID-19 cases

Across the country, nursing homes and Veterans Affairs facilities are being overwhelmed by COVID-19.

In the Bay Area, one institution stands out. 

The Veterans Home of California in Yountville, with almost 800 aging residents, has had no cases. 

"Fingers crossed we keep it that way," said Director Lisa Peake, while acknowledging an aggressive response. 

"We got on it early, it's nothing to mess around with," said Peak. "Our campus and CalVet were probably a week to two weeks ahead of everyone else."

Access to the sprawling Napa Valley campus tightened in early March. 

Staff wearing PPE screened arrivals then, and the precautions have only become more stringent since. 

Many residents admit they weren't initially concerned.  

"At first I said it's much ado about nothing, and I was dead wrong," said Alan, 85, an Air Force veteran making his way off the property to do some errands in nearby Yountville.  

Even using a walker, he said he makes the stroll daily, as other aspects of his lifestyle change.  

"We have more restrictions now, and I'm in a group of people who sing and we haven't been able to get together for weeks," Alan noted.  

Almost 800 veterans and spouses live in the enclave, the largest veterans home in the United States.

Among California's 8 state-run homes, only two COVID-positive residents have died.  

"More than likely if the coronavirus is brought on to a campus, it's done so by a staff member," said Peake.

That's why more than 800 employees at the Yountville facility are questioned exhaustively on arrival each day. 

Screeners ask about symptoms, medications, travel, and take each person's temperature before they are allowed entry. 

Even if their sneezing or cough are caused by allergies or asthma, they are sent home rather than incur risk. 

Residents are encouraged to stay on the property, where many social activities have been curtailed to create physical distance. 

"It's a hassle to do anything and we can't do a lot of stuff that we could before," said Marine Corps veteran Wyonna Wire, on her way back into the facility Wednesday afternoon. 

"If you're not into reading books, you're kind of up a creek."

Wire and her companion Yogi Baehr, an Air Force vet, usually ride their power chairs into Yountville a few days a week to visit the bank and a local deli.  

Now, they are going only once a week, and taking care not to be gone more than four hours each time.  

Residents who stay out longer must go through a mandatory five day isolation to make sure they didn't pick up the virus. 

The time limit has been aggravating at times, but it's also understood. 

"We could lose most of the residents here if it got on campus so they are being very careful and so are we," said Wire. 

Added Baehr, "When you get right to it, this is basically war and we're used to war."

Depending on the level of care in various wings, some activities are limited, and meals are brought to resident's rooms. 

"What I'm seeing are signs of safety around here, not people being scared, but people being aware of what's going on," said an Air Force veteran who gave his name as Duffy. 

Residents are encouraged to stay on the property as much as possible.   

"You don't need to stay in your room, just wear your mask if you come out, but walk around and get some sunshine," Peake urges her veterans. 

As a retired Colonel, she has a ready answer when some seniors grumble about all the precautions. 

"I tell them, it's not about you, its about we, it's about everybody."

As COVID-19 restrictions begin to ease outside campus, the Veterans Home expects to remain vigilant because of its vulnerable population. 

"We are like a family here," said Peake, "and I know I would be heartbroken if anyone here got it or succumbed to it."