An elderly patient in a northern California nursing home has died of the novel coronavirus, sparking fears of an outbreak among other residents of the facility and renewing concerns about statewide availability of testing kits to detect the virus.
The woman was among about 140 patients of the facility in Elk Grove, the same suburb where all public schools were closed this week after two family members with students in multiple sites tested positive for the coronavirus. Yesterday, the district announced that an elementary age student in that family had also tested positive.
Peter Beilenson, health director of Sacramento County, said Tuesday that all patients in the nursing home would be tested for the virus, but that effort was delayed by a lack of test kits. He said the county has access to only 20 tests per day, and is having to ration those between possible cases in the community and medical professionals who may have been exposed.
“It has been very frustrating because we have been stuck now for a couple of weeks with just 20 tests a day,” said Beilenson.
Beilenson said other residents of the facility are now subject to special protective measures, including having meals delivered to rooms and not being allowed to congregate in communal areas.
The woman’s death has renewed focus on the testing capacity needed in California and other state to help stem the spread of the COVID-19 disease. The number of tests available is inadequate, with healthcare workers statewide reporting widespread failings by local and federal government officials, as the Times reported on March 6.
As of last weekend, California had only 7,400 tests statewide, even as federal officials were pledging that nearly 1 million tests would be made available nationwide by that time.
On Tuesday at a news conference, Gov. Gavin Newsom said the state had 7,675 tests available. “But not every one of those tests can be accessed, because all the ingredients are not available at all of the labs,” the governor said.
The Elk Grove woman is the third confirmed death from COVID-19 in California, and she is the state’s first known case of infection with the coronavirus in a nursing home. But it is possible that other nursing home residents have contracted the disease, since local and state authorities do not reveal locations of individual victims.
As of Tuesday, California had 157 confirmed cases of COVID-19, the governor said, up from 60 last Friday.
Nursing home industry leaders have recommended curtailing all but essential visits at nursing facilities across the country, to stem the spread of the virus. The recommendation comes as the toll continues to rise at a Washington state nursing facility, Life Care Center of Kirkland, where 19 have died, including an additional 3 on Monday.
Staff writer Taryn Luna contributed to this report.