After announcing coronavirus infections at 121 nursing homes and other communal living institutions in Los Angeles County — including a home in Redondo Beach with four deaths and 38 confirmed cases — the county’s public health director advised families it would be “perfectly appropriate” to pull loved ones out of long-term facilities.

© Jay L. Clendenin/Los Angeles Times/TNS
REDONDO BEACH, CA –MARCH 31, 2020 -The Kensington, an assisted living residence in Redondo Beach, CA is one of 11 nursing home facilities with outbreak of coronavirus in Los Angeles County, with three positive cases and multiple symptomatic cases, photographed March 31, 2020.

L.A. County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said she agreed with other experts who have issued similar advice, particularly since so many people are working from home and would be more able than usual to care for an infirm family member. She also sympathized with families who face the “horrible reality” that they cannot care for a loved one at home.

Nursing homes, with their concentrations of elderly residents with underlying health problems, are turning into ground zero in the battle against the deadly new virus.

There have been hundreds of deadly outbreaks in homes across the country, with experts warning of a death rate approaching 50% at homes where the virus gets loose because residents are so vulnerable.

“If my mother or grandmother were in a nursing home right now, and I had the capability and the wherewithal to bring her home, I would,” said Dr. Michael Wasserman, the medical director at the Eisenberg Village skilled nursing facility in Reseda and president of the California Assn. of Long Term Care Medicine, which represents doctors, nurses and others working in long-term care facilities.

“Most nursing homes, no matter how good they are, are going to be challenged by this,” Wasserman said. “Some will do better than others, but sooner or later, the virus will find its way in.”

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When that happened at the Life Care Center nursing home in Kirkland, Wash., site of one of the first COVID-19 outbreaks in the U.S., two-thirds of the residents and 47 workers fell ill, and 37 people died.

Of the 169 deaths in Los Angeles County as of Tuesday, 36 have been residents of skilled nursing and assisted living facilities, Ferrer said. That’s 21% of all deaths in the county so far.

Ferrer said the vast majority of institutions that are being investigated for COVID-19 positive residents or staff — over 80% — have had fewer than three positive cases.

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