The risk that COVID-19–or the novel coronavirus–presents to older populations and people with certain underlying health issues is proving to be especially acute, which is why the CDC has called on long-term care facilities to be especially vigilant against introducing the virus to their vulnerable populations.
One of the largest in the area is the Northampton County-owned Gracedale nursing home facility in Upper Nazareth Township, where a number of Saucon Valley residents have loved ones in residence.
The county, according to officials, has moved fast to prevent an outbreak at Gracedale, which has 688 beds.
“I just want to assure everyone in Hellertown and Lower Saucon Township who have loved ones at Gracedale that we are doing everything we can to limit the risk of exposure at Gracedale to COVID-19, or coronavirus,” said Northampton County Executive Lamont McClure, reached by phone Friday.
“It’s our absolute goal to take as good of care of the folks who are residing at Gracedale as we possibly can. We’re taking all measures with respect to cleanliness–we’ve actually doubled and tripled our efforts,” he said.
Gracedale closed to visitors Wednesday “to minimize risk of exposure,” according to a post on its Facebook page.
The post suggests calling “the units to check on your loved one” at 610-829-3400.
Privately-owned nursing home facilities currently have the discretion to limit visitation.
Saucon Valley Manor in Hellertown began restricting visiting hours yesterday, said owner Nimita Kapoor-Atiyeh.
But starting Saturday, March 14, the rules will become much more restrictive and only essential personnel such as healthcare workers and first responders will be admitted.
In a letter from the Manors of the Valley–which include Saucon Valley Manor, Parkland Manor, Whitehall Manor and Bethlehem Manor–it was announced that “due to the uncertainty of this virus…we find it is essential that we suspend all non-essential, non-medically pre-approved visits to our Manors at this time.”
“We are aware that there are emergent situations that can occur with your loved one including end-of-life conditions,” the letter said. “Under these circumstances, visitors will be allowed as long as visitors do not have any flu-like symptoms, have visited another country, or have been in contact with or exposed to a person who is sick.”
Kapoor-Atiyeh urged families and friends with loved ones at the facility watch for updates on Saucon Valley Manor’s website.
According to a source with first-hand knowledge of the facility, Country Meadows in Bethlehem Township closed to visitors at 5 p.m. Thursday.
As of Friday afternoon, Northampton County had one confirmed or presumptive positive case of coronavirus; an unidentified patient who as of Thursday was being treated at St. Luke’s Anderson Campus hospital in Bethlehem Township.
At their mid-day briefing Friday, state officials announced that there are now 33 presumptive positive or confirmed cases of the virus in the Commonwealth, all of which are located in counties along or near Pennsylvania’s border with New Jersey.
Montgomery County has the most coronavirus cases to date, which prompted a decision by Gov. Tom Wolf Thursday to close schools and other venues there for two weeks.
In Northampton County public schools haven’t closed but they have been taking precautions against the illness, and many universities have closed dorms and moved classroom learning online. Local Catholic schools were also closed Thursday and Friday.
According to the Pennsylvania Department of Health website, as of 12:30 p.m. Friday there were roughly 300 individuals in the state classified as persons under investigation for Covid-19.
Roughly 140 individuals have tested negative and approximately 130 people have pending test results, a chart on the site indicated.
Pennsylvania has established a hotline for COVID-19 information and guidance: 1-877-PA-HEALTH (1-877-724-3258).
A Saucon Source reader who said she’s experiencing fatigue and a sore throat said she called the hotline Friday to request information about getting tested for the coronavirus.
As she was caller #98 in the queue, “I left a message with that number and they finally called me back about 20 minutes later,” the reader, a Northampton County resident, reported. “They did not know where I could get tested. They told me to call my GP (general practitioner), and if the GP didn’t know to call around to other GPs. Then (the representative) gave me the number to Northampton County’s State Health Office, 610-250-1825.”
“I am not overly concerned but am staying home as much as possible,” the reader said.
“I truly feel for people who may be feeling sick. The state operations appear ineffective,” she added.
St. Luke’s University Health Network has also launched a coronavirus telephone and email hotline to respond to inquiries from patients and the public: 1-866-STLUKES (785-8537), option 7, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
“The 24/7 hotline is led by St. Luke’s nursing staff who can provide information and guidance based on the latest recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Pennsylvania Department of Health,” a news release said. “The hotline is not a substitute for the advice of a physician or, when necessary, medical attention.”
“St. Luke’s is working in concert with federal, state and local government agencies as well as other area health systems to protect the health of patients and the community,” said St. Luke’s infectious disease expert Jeffrey Jahre, MD, Senior Vice President of Medical and Academic Affairs, in the news release.
Jahre said the public can help protect themselves and others by following CDC recommendations to take common sense measures, such as:
- Perform hand hygiene with soap and water or hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol often, but especially after going to the bathroom, after blowing your nose/coughing/sneezing, before eating and after coming into contact with a potentially contaminated public surface.
- Avoid touching your face.
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
- Avoid unnecessary crowd exposure.
- Stay home when you are sick, except to get medical care.
- Cover your coughs and sneezes with a tissue.
- Clean frequently touched surfaces and objects daily (e.g., tables, countertops, light switches, doorknobs and cabinet handles) using a regular household detergent and water.
More information about it as well as the latest updates from the Pennsylvania Department of Health are available here.