Good afternoon – this is Jeff Petty on Thursday May 28.
The good news is that new cases within WEL by any measure have declined significantly over the past 6 weeks. Our data is always incomplete due to pending results, but since May 15th, only 3 nursing residents across all communities and levels of care reported new onset of symptoms.
Pennypack had only 4 employees who first experienced symptoms in May, Stapeley 1, while neither Doylestown nor Main Line has had any May employee cases.
Upper Moreland and Burholme still have had no residents or employees testing positive.
As I am sure you are aware, Governor Wolf has announced that the 5-county Philadelphia region will be transitioning to the “Yellow” phase on June 5th , although nursing homes and congregate living communities – in other words, what WEL does – are specifically excluded from that.
So we have been planning for several weeks now how and when we should begin to loosen restrictions in our communities. The first steps are likely to be internal group functions such as dining and activities and perhaps opportunities for residents to leave campus. Outside visitors to the campuses is likely one of the last restrictions to be eased – the more people introduced into the environment the more exposed the residents are. The Executive Directors have been soliciting input from residents and families and will continue to do so – with a goal of being able to share the planning before June 5th.
In this planning, we must recognize that we are entering a “new normal”. This virus is not just going to go away. Efforts all along have been focused on “flattening the curve”, reducing the peak number of cases in hospitals, with no expectation of getting to zero cases. New cases will continue to occur indefinitely, at least well into the fall. That means that we should expect to continue to experience new cases for the rest of the year, possibly beyond. The looser the restrictions, in general and within WEL, the more cases we may experience. So we have to consider what our goals and expectations are and should be, and how we should react when, not if, there is a new case. I don’t believe we should strive for zero cases – the restrictions we would need to live with are just not sustainable…you all have been living with these restrictions for 10 weeks now, what if they were for 10 months or longer?
We also need to plan how we can be better prepared and how to respond better to a potential 2nd wave in the fall if that were to happen.
There is no “right” answer, we all have our own opinions and they are all valid…but we will do the best we can knowing there are possible downsides to all options.
Finally, we have gotten a lot of comments and questions around testing – what are our plans to test everyone – no doubt spurred by various officials stating that we should just test everyone in nursing homes and repeat weekly.
Unfortunately, testing is simply not the panacea it might appear to be, and the devil is always in the details.
First, it remains very difficult to get enough tests for every resident and employee once much less every week.
Beyond that, there are practical problems with the testing. With tests not being administered properly and the standard 24-48 hour delay in reporting results, when combined with new studies that report
that the test may not reliably return positive results in the first 3-5 days following infection, there is limited benefit to identifying positive cases several days to a week or more after infection.
Finally, the cost cannot be ignored. Without residents, just to test WEL employees weekly would cost more than $400,000 a month. WEL cannot cover that cost – that isn’t a judgment about whether the cost is worth it or whether it should be done – I am only stating that WEL, or any provider, cannot absorb $5 million a year in additional costs.
So, what sounds great still needs a lot more work before it is implemented or worthwhile. Stay tuned.
For now, this will be my last scheduled update, but I will continue to provide updates when appropriate. As always, you can get more detailed or current information from your Executive Director.
I end with my deep gratitude to our residents and their families who have endured this trial and been so helpful and to our employees who have simply been amazing.
Please stay healthy!