Coronavirus infections in Utah nursing homes are down, but the list of outbreaks is still long

(Trent Nelson | Tribune file photo) A sign at the Ridge Foothill retirement community reads, "We will survive COVID-19," on Tuesday, April 7, 2020.

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Ida Collard and Ralph Jones died last month as Utah’s coronavirus death toll continued to rise.

Their families say Collard and Jones contracted the virus in long-term care facilities, which have accounted for about 45% of Utah’s 330 coronavirus deaths despite bans on visitors and other steps to keep out COVID-19.

“It’s just a sad way to lose a brother,” said Karen Pehrson, Jones’ sister,because we couldn’t see him for four months.”

Just as there are signs the worst of Utah’s coronavirus spread is abating, the picture for nursing homes, rehabilitation centers, homes for the disabled and assisted living communities is improving.

Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, who helps lead Utah’s pandemic response, tweeted a graph Tuesday showing the number of “events” in long-term care facilities declined in the final week of July.

Since May, the Utah Department of Health has published a list of long-term care facilities in the midst of an outbreak. There were 34 facilities on it July 14; on Thursday, it was 32.

Like the rest of Utah, long-term care facilities have a long way to go to overcome the virus. Derek White, the senior vice president of Cascades Healthcare, said its Utah facilities did not see a decrease in coronavirus cases in July. Cascades operates 11 long-term care facilities in the state.

“Because of the vulnerability of the residents in the facilities we support,” White wrote in an email to The Salt Lake Tribune, “we continue to urge all Utahns to follow all the precautions recommended by the state to limit the spread of the virus.”

The current list of facilities with outbreaks includes one operated by the state — the Utah State Developmental Center in American Fork. The Utah Department of Human Services, which operates the center, said three residents and 19 staffers have tested positive during the pandemic. There are currently seven staffers recovering at home. No employees or residents have died.

It’s the second state-owned long-term care facility to have a coronavirus outbreak. The virus killed 13 residents at the William E. Christoffersen Veterans Home in Salt Lake City during the spring and summer.

Dr. Allyn Nakashima, a program manager at the Utah Department of Health, has said long-term care facilities have been caught in the wider community spread of the virus — a worker contracts COVID-19 and carries it into a care center. Both the decline in statewide cases and events at long-term care facilities began after Salt Lake County and a few other municipalities in Utah issued a requirement to wear face mask in public places.

[Watch: ‘Trib Talk’: How the coronavirus spreads in institutional settings]

Deaths can lag behind coronavirus infections, and Utahns are still dying in long-term care centers. The Utah Department of Health reported two more deaths in such centers Thursday — one in Davis County and one in Utah County.

Collard’s maiden name was Papanikolas — the family that owned Central Lumber and Hardware and other businesses in Magna. Collard, though, received a degree from the University of Utah focusing on fashion and design. Her son, Tim Helotes, said his mother enjoyed putting on cocktail dresses, pearls and jewelry.

“She just loved to go out to dinner,” Helotes said.

(Photo courtesy Tim Helotes) Ida Collard died July 20, 2020, in Salt Lake City after contracting COVID-19.

Collard resided at Capitol Hill Assisted and Senior Living for about 20 years, Helotes said. When the pandemic arrived, most long-term care facilities encouraged their residents to stay in their rooms. Helotes said that didn’t suit his mother; she liked visiting with others.

Helotes said Capitol Hill staffers “probably did the best they could” to keep the virus away. He’d go to see his mother through a window. Despite the ban on visitors inside the facility, Collard contracted the virus, Helotes said. She died at Capitol Hill on July 20. She was 100.

(Photo courtesy Karen Pehrson) Ralph W. Jones died July 24, 2020. His family says he contracted COVID-19 at a long-term care facility in Salt Lake City. He was 76 years old.

Jones lived at Avalon Valley Rehabilitation Center in South Salt Lake for seven years, Pehrson said. She is pleased with the care her brother received before the pandemic but isn’t sure what to think about Jones’ COVID-19 infection.

“Extreme care should have been taken,” Pehrson said. “Whether it was or not, I don’t know. These patients are so vulnerable.”

Jones died July 24. He was 76.