Coronavirus outbreak at Illinois veterans home infects nearly 200 residents, staff

By MEREDITH DELISO, ABC News

(CHICAGO) — A COVID-19 outbreak in an Illinois veterans home has infected nearly 200 people and taken the lives of 23 residents so far, officials said.

On Nov. 1, the Illinois Veterans Home at LaSalle reported that two residents and two employees had tested positive for the coronavirus. In its latest update on the outbreak, released Wednesday, a total of 98 residents and 93 employees had confirmed cases. Two more veterans had also died, bringing the total to 23, the report said.

Seven residents of the state-run long-term care facility are currently hospitalized, Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs spokesperson Bridget Dooley confirmed to ABC News.

The outbreak has reached a vast majority of the veterans in the home, which has 111 residents, according to Dooley.

“It’s a tragedy,” she said. “We’re all devastated by it.”

Long-term care facilities are at a high risk of being affected by COVID-19, due to their congregate nature and an older population that typically has underlying health conditions, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

LaSalle County is also experiencing a high rate of COVID-19 spread. It currently is at the state’s orange status, meaning there are “warning signs of increased COVID-19 risk in the county,” local health officials said in a Facebook post.

The county has also recently experienced a “drastic rise” in cases, they said. Total cases in LaSalle have more than doubled in the past month, increasing from 2,238 on Oct. 21 to 5,048 on Nov. 18. Its seven-day rolling positivity rate was 20.4% as of Nov. 15, according to state data.

“It’s really difficult to keep COVID out of these places when it’s running rampant in the community,” Dooley said.

To control the outbreak, the veterans home is currently testing employees at every shift change and residents daily using antigen tests, officials said. It also conducts daily health screenings of employees.

Visitors have also been limited, except for compassionate care visits for residents with COVID-19, who run the risk of a rapid change in condition, officials said.

“We are following the latest medical guidance and are working with state, federal and local health officials to ensure the continued care for all of our residents and testing and protection of anyone potentially exposed,” Angela Mehlbrech, administrator of the veterans home, said in a statement. “We are grateful to our team for remaining highly vigilant for signs or symptoms of COVID-19 and for responding swiftly, appropriately, and professionally to any potential cases.”

The outbreak appears to be slowing down, officials said, with two new cases reported on Wednesday.

The Midwest is the “epicenter” of COVID-19 outbreaks in long-term care facilities, according to the COVID Tracking Project. Last week, cases in nursing homes, assisted living facilities and other facilities increased 17%, with 38% of those in the Midwest, the tracker found. About 35% of the nation’s long-term care deaths reported last week were in the region, it said.

Illinois reported twice as many new cases last week over the previous week, with 1,932 cases, up from 838, according to the project.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced new restrictions this week as COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths spike in the state and in the Midwest.

Starting Friday, Illinois museums, theaters and casinos will temporarily close, and indoor recreational activities will be put on pause. People are also urged to stay home and avoid gatherings.

“We will continue to see a rise in both hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19 for weeks ahead because of the infections that have already happened, but we can change our longer-term outcome,” Pritzker said during a press briefing on Tuesday. “We can save potentially thousands of lives in the next few months if we make changes right now to stop this in its tracks.”

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