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A COVID-19 Outbreak At A Midland Nursing Home Has Led To Multiple Cases, Including One Death. It’s The Largest Coronavirus Cluster In The City.

By Mitch Borden

In less than a week, Midland Medical Lodge has quickly surged with COVID-19 cases. 

The facility — which cares for older and infirmed patients — is the exact kind of place health care experts were afraid would be hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic. Across the state, nursing homes in San Antonio and near Houston have seen outbreaks.

Now, Midland officials are scrambling to contain their own outbreak, which makes up over a quarter of all of the confirmed coronavirus cases in Midland, and a third of the city’s coronavirus-related deaths.

The nursing home has been the source of 12 COVID-19 cases and one death related to the disease. Public health officials said Friday morning that a 90-year-old woman from the facility had died — just two days after being hospitalized at Midland Memorial. The majority of those who have tested positive so far are staff at Midland Medical Lodge, including one part-time nurse. The rest of the patients have been in their 70s, 80s, and 90s.

The Midland Health Department has not released information on how the patients connected to the nursing home were first exposed to the virus, but a partial picture is beginning to form. 

This week, all of the reported cases at the nursing home have been patients who have come into contact with a known case of COVID-19.

Prior to the first resident testing positive for the disease on April 14, the health department was aware of four staff members who had been infected by the coronavirus. Health officials did not release this information, because they said they believed the spread of the virus had been contained and residents weren’t in danger. 

“We have been in touch with [the nursing home's] administration and staff regularly since their first staff member became positive,” said Whitney Craig, Midland's Health and Senior Services Manager.

According to Craig, “there was low concern” for the virus spreading at the facility since staff implemented mitigation measures, like wearing personal protective gear. At the time, Craig said, there were also no identified cases of COVID-19 among Midland Medical Lodge’s residents. Since cases of the coronavirus in the U.S. began to swell, long term care facilities have been some of the hardest-hit places in the country. The Centers for Disease and Control Prevention say, people who live at nursing homes or are 65 years or older, have a higher risk of developing a severe illness if they contract the coronavirus.

In Texas, more than 13% of the state’s nursing homes have at least one resident with the coronavirus, according to data released on April 9th.

Once local officials in Midland confirmed a resident had contracted COVID-19, Craig says the health department made an announcement so the public, “especially those with loved ones that are in the facility” were made aware of the situation.

According to the city, Midland Medical Lodge first took steps to mitigate the pandemic’s spread among its residents in mid-March when it barred visitors. By the beginning of April, all staff were required to wear masks and gloves. But, those preventative measures have done little to stop five residents at the nursing home from getting the coronavirus.

Medical staff at the facility are currently screening residents every four hours for COVID-19, and an isolation ward has been set up for anyone exhibiting symptoms of the disease. So far, 14 residents have been sequestered at the facility, according to Russell Meyers, the CEO of Midland Memorial Hospital.

The hospital is polling local nursing homes to see if there are residents at other facilities that are exhibiting signs of the coronavirus. So far, outside of Midland Medical Lodge, only one 90-year-old man has tested positive for COVID-19 at a retirement community. He is currently in quarantine.

The hospital, according to Meyers, will continue “to be very assertive in keeping up with the populations in nursing homes” over the next few weeks so it can be prepared for a potential influx of elderly and infirmed patients. 

Since more cases have been identified at Midland Medical Lodge that required hospitalization, Meyers announced the hospital would be sending a team to the assisted living facility to do widespread testing of all patients. He said this will help medical providers understand the full scope of the outbreak they are dealing with.

As of Friday afternoon, there have been 42 cases of the coronavirus identified in Midland and three COVID-19 related deaths.

Mitch Borden is Permian Basin Reporter & Producer at Marfa Public Radio.