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'Iowa was very proactive': Long-term care facility official says Iowa acted fast to slow COVID-19 spread at nursing homes

Gov. Kim Reynolds said the state has confirmed 3 outbreaks at long-term care facilities in Iowa as of Monday.

WEST DES MOINES, Iowa — Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds said officials have identified two additional COVID-19 outbreaks at long-term care facilities across the state. 

That brings the total number of outbreaks identified at long-term care facilities in Iowa to three. 

The facilities are located in Linn, Washington and Tama Counties. 

Outbreaks at these facilities pose a serious danger to those most vulnerable to the virus. 

Reynolds said long-term care staff and residents make up more than 10% of all positive cases in the state of Iowa and more than 48% of all deaths related to COVID-19 in Iowa were associated with outbreaks in long-term care facilities. 

"In Linn County alone, 71 of their 175 total positive cases are directly related to an outbreak and a single long-term care facility," Reynolds said. 

Nursing homes implement strict mitigation measures to protect residents and staff

Action has been taken federally and at the state level to protect nursing home residents.

On March 12, the Iowa Department of Public Health recommended nursing homes prohibit visitors to their facilities. Reynolds said Monday, those discussions started happening as early as March 10. 

On March 13, the federal government banned most visitors to nursing homes. 

On March 26, Reynolds also issued an order requiring employees to get screened for COVID-19 symptoms prior to their shifts.

On April 1, the Iowa Department of Public Health recommended health care workers providing care at nursing homes use face masks and eye protection for all patient encounters. 

"We knew that this would be an extremely vulnerable population and that's why we took very significant measures early on to start to really limit access, to protect and to make sure we were doing everything we can to mitigate, when we can, the effect of COVID-19 on our vulnerable Iowans," Reynolds said. 

Bickford Senior Living, which has facilities in West Des Moines and Urbandale, took several steps to protect residents and staff.

The facilities do daily temperature checks and regularly check PPE supplies. They have also stopped communal dining and started publishing positive COVID-19 cases at facilities online. 

"That's what prospective family members want to know, that's what the community wants to know," said Alan Fairbanks, executive vice president of operations at Bickford Senior Living. "We believe in full transparency and letting everyone know the situations we're dealing with and what's happening in those specific branches."

'The state of Iowa was very proactive in dealing with this entire situation as it relates to senior housing and long-term care'

Bickford Senior Living has facilities in 11 different states. Fairbanks said from what he's seen, Iowa has been ahead of other states when it comes to implementing mitigation measures. 

"They were one of the first states to come out and recommend non-communal dining, which I think was was a big thing to try to prevent the potential spread of COVID-19," Fairbanks said. "[Iowa] came out very early with requirements to screen employees prior to them beginning work. I feel like the state of Iowa was very proactive in dealing with this entire situation as it relates to senior housing and long-term care."

RELATED: Dr. Fauci: Iowa doing 'very good job' despite no stay-at-home order

Fairbanks said Bickford Senior Living facilities welcome community donations, especially donated time and companionship. 

He said residents can get lonely in isolation, so having penpals or making signs to tape to their windows for their loved ones to see can help keep residents' spirits up. 

"Any sort of community-type of connection that we can do that is safe is something we would we would welcome and encourage," Fairbanks said. 

Fairbanks thanked long-term care facility staff for showing up to the frontlines every day to protect residents from this virus or help residents that may have already contracted it. 

"It's almost like going to battle, going to war," Fairbanks said. "That's how they do it. They are rising to the challenge and I have so much respect, not just for our own caregivers, but for all of those individuals that are frail elderly."

Fairbanks said right now, Bickford Senior Living has adequate supplies of PPE, but added they are always accepting donations since this week is expected to be a difficult one for the entire nation. 

RELATED: 'We are going to hold Iowans accountable to what I have ordered': More businesses closed to slow the spread of COVID-19

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