Prioritizing the elderly for Covid-19 vaccinations appears to be paying off nationally and locally, with senior living communities within Falls Church getting their first taste of normal in over a year.
Goodwin House Bailey’s Crossroads and Chesterbrook Residences are two prominent long-term care facilities, as they are categorized by the public health officials, in and around the City of Falls Church, that have finally started to ease back into their regular swing of things.
But that’s not surprising given how eager residents at both senior communities were to get their vaccine doses.
“Our residents at Goodwin House were very anxious to get the vaccine, so it wasn’t a difficult sale for them at all. They were very excited to get it,” said Karen Doyle, who’s the Director of Nursing and the Associate Executive Director for Goodwin House Bailey’s Crossroads.
Goodwin House announced earlier this month that 98 percent of its residents at its Bailey’s Crossroads location were fully vaccinated, as was 92 percent of its staff. Meanwhile, at Chesterbrook, 98 percent of its residents were also fully vaccinated, with 90 percent of its staff receiving both doses as well.
Being long-term care facilities, both Chesterbrook and Goodwin House are enrolled in the Pharmacy Partnership for Long Term Care Program, which is hosted by the Virginia Department of Health and CVS Pharmacy. The two communities held their multiple vaccine clinics — with some starting as early as the tail end of 2020 — that allowed them to deliver vaccines to all interested residents by mid-February at the latest.
The best news of all is that, since vaccinations, the staff at both facilities have reported no new cases of Covid-19 nor did anyone have adverse reactions to their dosages. That paved the way for laxer policies around their respective buildings where residents can enjoy some of the things they hadn’t for the past year, and has even allowed them to welcome visitors as well as take trips off-site again. Both hadn’t allowed visitors since November when case numbers spiked up again.
“The relief and joy are visible on the faces of our residents and families, especially now that family visits and small group activities have resumed in our community, as well as the re-opening of the dining room for all meals,” Vijay Maharajan, the executive director for Chesterbrook, said. “Although we are fortunate to be able to safely modify previous restrictions, we continue to adhere to [Centers for Disease and Control Prevention] and health department guidance that includes wearing a mask, remaining socially distanced, and implementing enhanced infection control and sanitation protocols.”
There’s been little doubt shown about the vaccine’s efficacy, but whether the vaccine does, in fact, stop transmission of the virus has remained murky. So far, it seems that there’s reason for some cautious optimism.
Dr. Maggie Gloria, Goodwin House’s Hospice Medical Director, mentioned a study done in Israel that found the Pfizer vaccine stopped symptomatic transmission of coronavirus 97 percent of the time, and asymptomatic transmission of it 94 percent of the time. The overwhelming majority of residents and staff being vaccinated has brought a hopeful air to the facility, but there’s still some hesitation as it relates to the new variants, especially the one coming out of the United Kingdom.
“We’re definitely moving in the right direction, but we have to be cautious because of the variants,” said Dr. Mariatu Koroma-Nelson, Goodwin House’s medical director. “There’s a lot that we are still learning about the variants. So we still have to follow certain protocols in order to keep the residency safe from any unknown risk.”
Virginia is middle of the pack when it comes to vaccinating its population of residents that are 65 and older.
Of the 1.3 million state residents that are 65 and older, which is 12th largest in the nation (Virginia is also the 12th largest state by general population), 40 percent of those Virginians have received both doses of their Covid-19 vaccine per the CDC. While its vaccination rate does better than some bigger states — such as Texas (38 percent), Pennsylvania and New York (both 34 percent) — it’s easily outpaced by other large states, such as North Carolina (52 percent) Florida (47 percent) and California (46 percent).
Regardless, the emphasis on senior vaccinations has paid off nationwide. The New York Times reported that from late December to early February, “new cases among nursing home residents fell by more than 80 percent, nearly double the rate of improvement in the general population. The trendline for deaths was even more striking: Even as fatalities spiked over all this winter, deaths inside the facilities have fallen, decreasing by more than 65 percent.”
Who deserves the credit for such an achievement? There’s plenty to go around — from government incentives to produce a vaccine in record time, to the scientists at Pfizer and Moderna who spearheaded its development to the successful distribution campaigns across the nation.
Back in Falls Church, Doyle gives credit to Goodwin House’s frontline staffers who made an effort to encourage everyone to get vaccinated. She said that came about in a bunch of different ways, and was a major factor to rooting out any hesitancy among residents or fellow staff members.