COVID-19 Cluster In Yucaipa Is 'Tip Of The Iceberg,' Nursing Home Union Leader Says 

N95s are the gold standard in protecting health care workers from particles and droplets in the air. (Mladen Antonov/AFP via Getty Images)

Here's the scenario: Your loved one is in a nursing home on lockdown, you know people there are sick with COVID-19, and you have no way to visit or see for yourself how it's being handled.

That's Debra Hoffman's reality. Her 74-year-old aunt is a resident at the Cedar Mountain nursing home in Yucaipa, where a COVID-19 cluster is occuring. So far 51 residents and six staff members have tested positive for the new coronavirus and two infected residents have died.

Hoffman said her aunt, who suffered a stroke, needs full-time care.

"The hardest thing is that I can't physically go up there and control this situation," Hoffman said. "I can't go in to see what's really going on and I'm not getting accurate information."

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Hoffman learned of the outbreak at Cedar Mountain only after it was reported in a local TV newscast, she said, adding that a representative from Cedar Mountain called the following day to let her know the situation at the nursing home.

"It's frustrating because I don't know what's going to happen," Hoffman said. "I don't know how they're treating it, I don't know what their procedures are to keep this from spreading, other than my aunt told me they're not allowed out of their room."

Hoffman wants her aunt and all residents and staff at Cedar Mountain to be tested for COVID-19 and she said she's getting conflicting information on whether or not that's happened.

Lana Culp, a spokeswoman for the San Bernardino County Department of Public Health, said most of the residents had been tested, but not all.

"There isn't much value in testing everyone at this point now, just because it should be assumed that their whole facility has been exposed due to the large number of confirmed cases," Culp said.

Cedar Mountain staff were not immediately available to provide comment.

THE STATE'S RESPONSE

"Infection control specialists from CDPH [California Department of Public Health], along with county staff, have been at the facility to provide assessments and work in real time on infection control measures," the California Department of Public Health said in an emailed statement to LAist.

According to the state's guidance for skilled nursing facilities: "symptomatic residents and exposed roommates must limit movement outside their room; if they need to leave the room, they should wear a facemask."

That means other families across California and the nation are finding themselves in Hoffman's shoes — unable to see for themselves how their loved ones are being treated.

To prevent the spread of the virus, CDPH guidelines say residents with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 infection should be kept in the same wing or building and that communal dining areas should be closed. They also say 'high touch' surfaces should be cleaned and disinfected with Environmental Protection Agency-registered, healthcare-grade disinfectants.

'DIRE' NEED FOR MORE PROTECTIVE EQUIPMENT

As nursing homes across California brace for more outbreaks among their vulnerable populations, a coalition of nurses, skilled nursing facility operators and a union which represents thousands of nursing home workers in California is pleading with the federal government to urgently get millions of masks and gowns to the front lines.

"Unfortunately, Yucaipa... it is the tip of the iceberg," April Verrett, President of Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 2015, said on a call this week with reporters.

Verrett said nursing home workers don't have enough protective equipment to keep themselves and residents from getting infected should we see more outbreaks and clusters in these close-quarters settings.

"The need is so acute and so dire, the solution must come from the federal government," Verrett said.

State leaders, including California State Senator Richard Pan and Assemblywoman Eloise Reyes are also demanding the federal government do more to insure production of personal protective equipment is made in the U.S. and distributed to facilities in need.

"We're sending our frontline workers to a war zone without protection," Reyes said. "And that cannot continue."

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