Tulare County health officials credit vaccine for low COVID rates at nursing homes

VISALIA, Calif. (KFSN) -- Central California nursing homes have come a long way since March of 2020.

Redwood Springs Health Center in Visalia was one of several facilities hit hard by COVID.

"With a magnitude of outbreaks and widespread severe illness in our nursing homes, it was really heartbreaking," shared Carrie Montero, public information officer for Tulare County Health Department.

Fast forward more than a year, things look a bit different at Tulare County nursing homes and skilled nursing facilities.

"We have had some outbreaks with this surge, but they've been very minimal and very much contained and nowhere near the magnitude that we saw at the beginning of the pandemic," Montero said.

Officials with the county health department said the facilities are seeing the effects of the vaccine, as nursing home residents and staff were among the first to get the shot.

"The vaccine is proving to be protective and effective in our nursing homes at keeping our residents out of the hospital and keeping infections controlled within the facility," said Montero.

In Tulare County, 16 facilities reported vaccination rates to the CDC. The data shows 85% of both nursing home residents and staff are fully vaccinated as of January 2. Almost half of those residents have received a booster shot. However, booster shots among the staff remain low at 15%.

Taking a look at other counties across the Central Valley, it's the same story.

Most counties have almost 50% of their nursing home residents up to date with a booster shot. Kings County has the lowest percentage of fully vaccinated residents.

PERCENTAGE OF RESIDENTS VACCINATED, BOOSTED

  • Fresno County: 86% vaccinated, 35% boosted
  • Madera County: 87% vaccinated, 31% boosted
  • Merced County: 91% vaccinated, 50% boosted
  • Kings County: 55% vaccinated, 40% boosted


When it comes to staff, data shows not one county has even a third of their nursing staff boosted.

PERCENTAGE OF STAFF VACCINATED, BOOSTED

  • Fresno County: 92% vaccinated, 20% boosted
  • Madera County: 95% vaccinated, 11% boosted
  • Merced County: 94% vaccinated, 29% boosted
  • Kings County: 68% vaccinated, 13% boosted


According to Montero, in Tulare County, they continue to partner with EMS to provide vaccinations or boosters to nursing home staff and residents when requested. They're also making efforts to provide rapid tests to nursing homes, with a heavy focus on visitors.

"We do know upwards to 40% to 50% of COVID cases are asymptomatic, and the only way to catch those is regular testing efforts," she said.

Nursing homes are also dealing with staffing shortages. Tulare County is ready to deploy extra assistance if facilities are close to a breaking point.

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