Nearly 100 residents of a nursing home in New Jersey are presumed to have the novel coronavirus after 24 residents tested positive and many others started exhibiting symptoms.
All 94 residents of the St. Joseph’s Senior Home in Woodbridge were being transported by bus with the help of workers wearing full-body protective gear to a CareOne home roughly 30 miles away on Wednesday.
“The hardest part is knowing that they probably don’t understand the weight of the problem, so they feel abandoned,” Henryka Roman, the daughter of a 94-year-old St. Joseph’s resident, told The Daily Beast. Her mother, Maria Zygmaniak, tested positive for the coronavirus after exhibiting symptoms such as a fever and cough.
Zygmaniak, who has been a resident at the home for seven years, only speaks Polish. “She is in stable condition now, but who knows if she is going to survive this. We are not able to see her, and she probably doesn’t understand why we can’t see her,” Roman said.
Relatives of residents told The Daily Beast that the facility contacted them recently to let them know that someone connected to the home had been admitted to the hospital and had later developed coronavirus symptoms. When that person tested positive, residents and staff in the home were also tested. It’s not clear how the first patient contracted the virus.
New Jersey health officials said that many of the residents and roughly a dozen staff members began experiencing flu-like symptoms, leaving only three nuns to care for all of the senior home’s residents.
“This may result unfortunately and ultimately with the closure of that facility, a facility that has cared for the most vulnerable population in Woodbridge and the surrounding area for decades,” said New Jersey Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli.
“With the employees ill and now quarantined, and the inability to get the adequate staff to give the residents the care they deserve... that’s why I said the ultimate result may be closure,” she added.
According to an assessment by Medicare, St. Joseph’s had a five star overall rating with a four star rating for staffing per nursing home resident, which is determined as “above average.”
One relative, whose 92-year-old mother is a resident at St. Joseph’s, told The Daily Beast that the home had been “phenomenal” at dealing with the outbreak and he hoped it didn’t shut down permanently.
“There’s a reason why they are so highly rated,” the relative, who asked for his name to be withheld, said. “They are incredibly caring and very good at what they do... I would, in an instant, get my mom back into the facility once it re-opened.”
He said his mother had tested positive for coronavirus but was showing no symptoms other than a mild fever, and was in good spirits in hospital. “She’s 92 but she’s incredibly healthy so I’m hoping she will be one of the patients who’s fine with this,” he said.
“To me, the most important thing about this is it’s just a very clear indication of how incredibly contagious this is,” he added.
Woodbridge Township Mayor John McCormac told The Daily Beast that six of the 11 first cases of the virus in Woodbridge were St. Joseph’s residents. “Ultimately, they called the state for help last week, and nurses were assigned there from CareOne this past weekend. They started showing up over the weekend, and as of yesterday the decision was made to close the facility.”
“Everyone began the monumental task of moving 79 residents on six medical buses,” the mayor added. “There’s people in wheelchairs and walkers, and they have attachments for IV’s. It’s an amazing logistical challenge.”
Since the coronavirus arrived in the United States, nursing homes have emerged as epicenters of an illness that puts those over the age of 60 at particularly high risk. The Life Care Center in the Kirkland community of Seattle, Washington was the first nursing home to be hit by the crisis, resulting in 35 deaths. Federal investigators found that employees who had the virus continued to show up for work and spread it to residents in other facilities as they helped manage the outbreak, the Associated Press reported.
“Nursing homes would always have been ground zero, but given we already have huge staffing shortages, this will be magnified,” David Grabowski, a Harvard Medical School professor told the AP, citing a 75 percent staffing shortage in nursing homes nationwide. “It could be worse for today’s nursing homes than ever.”
The coronavirus has swept through several other facilities in states across the country, including Washington, Illinois, New Jersey, and others. Thirty-three patients and 13 staff members were infected at Chateau Nursing & Rehabilitation Center in nearby Chicago.
Employees of the Illinois facility had reportedly complained about a lack of protective gear and supply shortages amid the outbreak, including a certified nursing assistant, Tonya Davis, who said they gave her “just gloves,” according to the Chicago Tribune.
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy on Wednesday confirmed the state’s biggest spike in cases over a 24-hour period with 800 new cases, bringing the total to almost 3,700. The death toll from the virus in New Jersey stood at 44 on Wednesday.
“I want to give a shout out particularly to CareOne,” Murphy said on Tuesday. “This started to unfold on Friday night and it was a battle over the whole weekend,” he added, referencing the virus-stricken senior home.