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About half of COVID-19 deaths in Oklahoma are at nursing homes and long-term care facilities

Posted at 11:59 AM, Jul 28, 2020

As COVID-19 cases surge in the state of Oklahoma, so are cases at nursing homes and long-term care facilities (LTC), where residents are especially vulnerable to the virus.

The number of coronavirus-related deaths at these facilities account for 47% of all deaths in Oklahoma. It's a sobering fact for many who have lost a loved one.

"I miss her a lot," says Nancy Vitali, "She was a gypsy, and she was sassy. She wore beaded jewelry that her friends made and always looked very coordinated and put-together."

She describes her friend Sheila Elizabeth Black, who passed away at the age of 72 from COVID-19 complications. She earned her English literature degree from the University of Tulsa and loved to write poems.

"Her poetry was amazing, and she led creative writing groups out of her home," says Vitali.

In the last few years, she said Black suffered from dementia and required extra care at Gracewood Health and Rehab nursing home in Tulsa, where two deaths have been reported during the pandemic.

"They tried mightily to keep her from either contracting it or spreading it, who knows what? You can’t see the virus," says Vitali, "And she was a wanderer, so it was really hard to put her on quarantine.”

Since the outbreak, it was tough for Vitali not to visit her friend when facilities went on lock down and restricted visitations.

Black is one of 238 Oklahomans who lived at a nursing home or LTC and died from COVID-19. She was treated for complications at St. Francis Hospital, where she passed away on July 20.

Unfortunately, it's not a trend unique to Oklahoma.

"It's kind of what we're seeing nationally. Just remember that nursing homes are communal settings, so it is easy for a virus to spread from person to person when there's close contact," explains. Dr. Lee Jennings, Chief of Geriatric Medicine at the University of Oklahoma.

She said even if these types of facilities follow strict safety guidelines, the possibility of transmission increases because of the close nature of physical care.

"They need help with bathing or toiling or movement, that kind of close contact increases the possibility of transmission of the virus even if the person is wearing appropriate masking and protective equipment.”

Despite the risks of the virus, Dr. Jennings says Oklahomans can do their part to lower community spread by wearing a mask in public, social distancing and washing our hands.

According to the Oklahoma State Department of Health's executive report published on July 17, the most reported coronavirus-related deaths at nursing homes or LTC have been reported in Oklahoma County at 49, Tulsa County has reported 43 deaths and Washington County has 33.

Some of the facilities that have seen the highest cases are Bartlesville Health and Rehabilitation Community with 92 cases and 20 deaths and PARCway Post Acute Recovery with 88 cases and 11 deaths.

The department of health's website publishes a full break down of the latest cases at each facility every week.

As of June 15, nursing homes and long-term care facilities were allowed to resume a phased approach on visitations under Governor Kevin Stitt’s executive order. Despite this move, some have continued to restrict visitors in order to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

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