As the novel coronavirus continues to spread throughout the Joplin area, more nursing homes are reporting cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, despite the best efforts of staff.

Three Joplin nursing homes that were coronavirus-free into August have started reporting cases.

• NHC Healthcare Joplin, the home at 2700 E. 34th St., has a COVID-19 dashboard on its website, https://nhccare.com/locations/joplin.

On Monday, that dashboard was reporting 11 infections among residents, eight people with active cases of COVID-19 in its on-site isolation rooms and two more residents being treated at area hospitals. One NHC resident died in the past two weeks with COVID-19.

The dashboard also reported three employees had tested positive. No recoveries were reported.

• Joplin Health and Rehabilitation Center, 2218 E. 32nd St., reported 22 infections among residents and 13 infections among employees in tests conducted around Labor Day, according to Joe Perkins, spokesman for Northport Health Services, the company that owns the center.

Only two residents reported any symptoms of the disease.

• Joplin Gardens, 2810 S. Jackson Ave., reported nine cases of the virus among residents and at least four cases among employees in testing that took place about a month ago.

According to administrator Marta Sayles, all residents and employees have since recovered.

Taking precautions

Administrators with all the sites or their parent companies said they were wary as the virus spread in the Joplin community has spiked once again.

According to the Joplin Health Department’s COVID-19 dashboard, the number of active cases of the disease in the Joplin city limits spiked from 96 on Sept. 1 to 145 on Sept. 8 and a high of 197 on Saturday. The number for Sunday was 190 active cases.

The number of active cases of COVID-19 in Joplin had been as low as 25 on Aug. 1, but it has been growing steadily since then.

“As of right now, we’re allowing no family and outside visits,” Sayles said. “We’re monitoring community testing and if our (test positivity) numbers are over 10 percent, we’re shut down. As long as the numbers keep driving up out in the community, then we have to suffer the consequences of that.”

Casey Reece, spokesperson for NHC, the company that owns NHC Healthcare Joplin, said the staff worked to keep the virus out, but community spread made that difficult.

“As community spread has increased and more cases are in the community, we knew that unfortunately we would see an increase in our numbers in our centers, and Joplin has started increasing,” Reece said. “It’s been in the past two weeks that we had our first cases, and the one resident who passed away died in the past two weeks.”

Joe Perkins, spokesperson for Northport Health Services, said Joplin Health and Rehabilitation Center had managed to keep the virus out longer than the company’s sites in Carthage and Webb City, but the test-positivity rate continues to grow in Southwest Missouri.

“We had no residents with coronavirus in the Joplin facility for so long,” Perkins said. “This testing would have been actually conducted on or about Labor Day, and we got the results in the middle to the end of the week. What our statistics show is that almost always the positivity rate in our nursing home is reflective of the positivity rate in the community.”

All three facilities set up isolation units to care for their residents in-house.

They are all closed to visitors except in extreme cases.

“Any way anybody wants to communicate outside of coming into this building or opening a window, we’ll accommodate,” Sayles said. “Any source of communication we’ll use to keep families in touch with their relatives, we’ll use.”

“It’s been so hard. We’re doing so many virtual visits and phone calls and all these different ways to keep families connected,” Reece added. “At the end of the day, with CMS visitation guidelines, we’ve got families that haven’t been able to be in the same room and touch their family members in months.

“When they lose a loved one, it’s heartbreaking, and it's heart-wrenching for us. We’ve cared for their loved ones for who knows how long. Sometimes these are long-term care patients, and it’s almost as hard for our staff as it is for their families because our incredible teamwork our team is doing now, not only being clinical and being their caretakers. They’re being their family members too. I’ve never seen anything like this.”

Previous hot spots

The Spring River Christian Village, a home that was hit by the coronavirus in July, has seen no new cases since Aug. 11, according to Ray Dickison, spokesperson for the parent company, Christian Horizons.

Dickison said Spring River’s nursing facility is working with hospitals to help patients who are recovering from the virus rehabilitate and get home as soon as possible.

Spring River Christian Village saw 73 residents and 54 employees infected in July.

Of the infected residents, 21 died and 52 recovered. Twenty-one of the 22 deaths currently reported on the Joplin Health Department’s COVID-19 dashboard were reported at Spring River Christian Village.

Perkins, with Northport Health Services, said Webb City Health and Rehabilitation Center, which saw a big spike in cases in August, had seen only three new of COVID-19 since Sept. 3, and one additional person had died with the illness.

Perkins said 72 residents have been infected with the virus since the pandemic began, with eight having died and 64 having recovered and returned to the regular population.

Thirty-one employees had been infected with the virus, and all have recovered and returned to work, he said.

Northport also owns Carthage Health and Rehabilitation Center, which saw a spike in cases in July. Perkins said one additional case of COVID-19 had been reported at that center since the beginning of September.

The numbers in Carthage were 21 residents infected since the pandemic began, with 14 recovering and seven residents having died of the disease.

That center also saw 20 employees infected, all having recovered and returned to work.