ROY — For more than two months up until late July, Heritage Park Healthcare and Rehabilitative Services was a COVID-19 hot spot in Weber County.
The number of cases among residents and staff at the Roy facility surged past 80 as county and state health officials scrambled to help staff get a handle on the situation. More tragically, the COVID-19 death count associated with Heritage Park ultimately reached 13, just over half the 25 COVID-19 deaths registered in all so far in Weber County, according to the Weber-Morgan Health Department. Now, though, officials say the threat at Heritage Park has subsided.
Heritage Park has been removed from the Utah Department of Health website listing long-term care facilities with positive COVID-19 cases, said Jeff Fletcher, the Heritage Park administrator. Moreover, he went on, “we are exceptionally pleased to confirm that the building does not currently have any residents or staff members who are positive for the virus.”
It took time and a team effort, though. And the 13 deaths — which give the health district covering Weber and Morgan counties the second-highest death rate for coronavirus patients among the 13 districts in the state — took a toll.
“In terms of the residents who have passed, we are deeply saddened by these events — losing any member of our community is painful and challenging, and we wish the families of these residents strength and grace as they attempt to carry on in the absence of their loved ones,” Fletcher said in a statement to the Standard-Examiner.
Amy Carter, communicable disease and epidemiology nursing supervisor for the Weber-Morgan Health Department, cited the relative large size of Heritage Park in explaining the numbers. All of the deaths in the two counties covered by the Weber-Morgan Health Department have been in Weber County.
“With over 100 residents and more than 200 staff, Heritage Park is a large facility compared to most others in our county. This contributed to the higher number of cases within one facility,” she said in an email. There have been outbreaks at other facilities in the area, Carter said, but since they are smaller the overall numbers have been less dramatic.
Indeed, the 13 Heritage Park deaths added to the 12 other coronavirus-related deaths in Weber County — 25 of them in all so far — result in a coronavirus death rate of 0.95% for the Weber-Morgan health district. That figure, representing deaths divided by total COVID-19 cases, 2,640, is second among Utah’s health districts only to the 3.82% rate for the health district in San Juan County in southeast Utah, hit particularly hard by the pandemic. Third behind Weber and Morgan counties is Salt Lake County, with a 0.91% coronavirus death rate, 178 deaths and 19,556 cases.
“If we look at our deaths outside of the outbreak, our numbers are likely very similar in picture to our neighboring communities,” Carter said. In fact, not factoring the 13 deaths associated with Heritage Park, the coronavirus death rate in Weber and Morgan counties, 12 deaths divided by 2,640 confirmed cases so far, falls to 0.45%. That compares to the 0.5% death rate in Davis County, 15 deaths divided by 3,026 cases.
“In Davis County, we have been able to keep the virus primarily out of our long-term/assisted living facilities. Yes, there have been cases, but for the most part, we’ve done a pretty good job of protecting that population,” said Trevor Warner, spokesperson for the Davis County Health Department.
AN ASYMPTOMATIC EMPLOYEE?The outbreak at Heritage Park came to public light in May, soon after the first positive test result there on May 4. Ultimately 46 residents and 36 staff tested positive for COVID-19, leading to the 13 deaths, with the last positive result dating to July 20, according to Fletcher. The outbreak there was declared over the last week in July, according to Carter.
Heritage Park officials aren’t sure how the virus made its way into the facility in the first place. Fletcher, though, said they suspect it could have been an asymptomatic employee unaware he or she had the virus.
Whatever the cause, officials sprung into action when they learned coronavirus was present at Heritage Park. “I am incredibly grateful to the Heritage Park team who has worked with rigor and commitment to implement our infection prevention and control protocols in order to keep our residents and one another as safe and healthy as possible,” Fletcher said.
The Utah Department of Health and local health departments put a particular focus on long-term care facilities because those in such places can be more susceptible to COVID-19, Carter said. When a case is identified in such a place, state and local health care officials will typically work with those in the facility to address the issue. That’s what happened in the case of Heritage Park.
State, Weber-Morgan and Heritage Park reps held regular calls, working together to test those at the facility and to reach out to others who may have had contact with the locale, among other things.
“Positive staff were excluded from work through their isolation, and positive residents were put in isolation in a dedicated COVID unit that was separated from the rest of the facility. Some residents were transferred to other COVID-designated facilities or hospitals as needed,” Carter said. “Frequent assessments, testing and communication continued throughout the outbreak, which fortunately was able to be declared over the last week of July.”