5 long-term facilities in Ozaukee, Washington counties have COVID-19 outbreaks; 6 more suspected

GRAFTON -- Officials with the Washington Ozaukee Public Health Department on Wednesday, March 25 issued a third order related to long-term care facilities in Washington and Ozaukee counties "intended to limit resident exposure" to the coronavirus -- as the number of confirmed cases in Grafton more than doubled.

"These are people's lives," said Kirsten Johnson, health officer.

COVID-19 at Village Pointe Commons in Grafton

FOX6 News learned Wednesday of 13 positive cases at the Village Pointe Commons in Grafton -- an increase of eight from Friday, March 20 (when there were five). Health officials executed a targeted testing effort there and got results expedited because they were trying to find the source.

A team of six Wisconsin National Guard medics reported to the Village Pointe Commons senior living facility in Grafton late Saturday afternoon, March 21 to augment staff there amid the coronavirus pandemic. An Ozaukee County man in his 90s who was a resident in the memory care unit died as a result of the coronavirus on Thursday, March 19. A long-term caregiver and three additional residents at the facility tested positive for COVID-19.

Robert Blackbird, a Village Pointe Commons resident, was just shy of his 92nd birthday when he lost his life as a result of COVID-19.

"My dad was ready to go, but I think none of us really knew the severity of this, and I think we still don't know," said Haly Besaw, Blackbird's daughter.

Robert Blackbird

The Washington Ozaukee Public Health Department ordered an immediate lockdown of all long-term care facilities in Washington and Ozaukee counties that same day.

Kirsten Johnson

"We've done a targeted effort in testing people in that facility specifically to stop the spread," said Johnson.

FOX6 News learned Wednesday in addition to the Grafton facility, outbreaks were under investigation at two more facilities in Ozaukee and two more in Washington County -- for a total of five long-term care facilities with confirmed outbreaks, and six more facilities between the two counties that are “potential” outbreak sites that are expected to be confirmed as outbreaks within 48 hours.

An outbreak is determined as two or more positive cases.

Health officials believe the spread is occurring because of infected health care workers/staff traveling between facilities.

"Locking down one facility doesn't solve the problem if it's actually the staff and caregivers that are potentially the vectors of the virus," said Johnson

New orders issued

A press release Wednesday said the new orders require all staffing agencies or similar businesses, including hospice providers who provide direct care staff who work at long-term care facilities in Washington and Ozaukee Counties, to limit personnel from working in multiple facilities during this state of emergency.

"They use staffing agencies, but also hospice providers that may go into one, two, or up to six facilities in a week, and maybe multiple in a day because that's what their staffing model is," said Johnson. "The way that staffing for these facilities is structured is increases the risk in a pandemic, and we want to reduce that risk as much as we can."

Village Pointe Commons

The order applies to every license at larger facilities.

In addition, the order requires any company transporting long-term care facility residents to utilize personal protective equipment (masks and gloves) and routinely disinfect and clean vehicles.

Health officials noted, through shared resources, they were in the process of conducting robust contact tracing for every positive case of COVID-19, with extensive contact tracing producing evidence that staff and caregivers have introduced the virus into numerous long-term care facilities.

On Wednesday morning, Washington County leaders spoke with Governor Tony Evers to brief him on concerns with long-term care COVID-19 spread.

As of Wednesday, there were 20 confirmed cases in Ozaukee County, and 21 in Washington County, showing that these facilities don't account for all of the cases.