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Brattleboro nursing home administrator on state's changing approach to COVID as cases rise

A rapid COVID test kit on top of a surgical mask.
COVID cases have been creeping upwards in Vermont's long-term care facilities due to the omicron variant.

Nursing homes and other senior living facilities have had some of the worst outbreaks of COVID-19. And the earliest pandemic restrictions were aimed at keeping the virus out of those facilities.

But Vermont lifted those rules months ago, and now cases are starting to creep up again, driven by the omicron variant.

The state reported 58 new COVID cases at long-term care facilities this week, more than double the previous week's count.

VPR’s Liam Elder-Connors spoke with Dane Rank, the administrator of Thompson House, a 60-bed eldercare facility in Brattleboro. Their conversation has been condensed and edited for clarity. Rank said in December, Thompson House had its first COVID cases among its residents, four in total, and the Health Department helped get monoclonal antibody treatments to the nursing home.

Dane Rank: It was like a miracle. Within a couple of days, these residents were reporting no symptoms, or very, very limited symptoms, and everybody lived.

Liam Elder-Connors: What are the things that you're doing actively at Thompson House to try to protect the residents from catching COVID and mitigating the situations that could arise?

So we just received recent guidance on this, visitors no longer have to call ahead. And we can no longer specify hours during which visitation can take place. They're really trying to open up some sense of normalcy for our residents receiving visitors, which is just so great for their psychological well-being.

We have designated three rooms within the facility, which we clean regularly. And when the folks come into the facility, they fill out documentation on their temperature, their contact information, we review with them safe touch guidelines and what the expectations are. And we have them meet in a separate room.

And then when they leave, we sanitize the room, and we invite anyone from the community who's visiting people here to come to do weekly PCR testing, which we do on Mondays.

More from VPR: Hey Vermonters, here's what to do if you think you might have COVID

Do you require visitors to wear a mask or to be vaccinated to visit residents?

We unfortunately are not allowed to require vaccination. But we do ask if they're willing to provide that for us. Yes, we have the masks, the hospital masks, which we offer to people when they come in. We do hand sanitizing, that's all part of the orientation to safe touch and resident encounters, which we do prior to the visit.

Would it be helpful for you to have more restrictions or guidance coming down from the state to try to keep cases from going up in your facility?

You know, I've been thinking a lot about this. The disallowance of the state-sponsored antigen kits for visitors was really a surprise. Because I mean, as I said, up until Dec. 4, we had never had a resident positive case. And we've caught several, I mean four visitors, four staff at the door before they came into the facility.

That could have been catastrophic back when nobody had a vaccine, and when we were losing a third of the seniors who got this virus.

So I mean, that was at the time, obviously the best approach. I did have some questions about not testing visitors coming into the facility. But it appears as if the approach is changing now to not keeping it out of everywhere, but being able to identify, isolate and treat people in a manner that keeps everybody alive but keeps the system moving and keeps the economy open. And you know, really tries to get us back to some sense of normalcy.

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message or get in touch with reporter Liam Elder-Connors @lseconnors

Liam is Vermont Public’s public safety reporter, focusing on law enforcement, courts and the prison system.
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