Alpine Healthcare Center in Keene has reported an outbreak of COVID-19 affecting dozens of people and tied to five deaths in the past month, according to the N.H. Department of Health and Human Services.
The county-run Maplewood Nursing Home in Westmoreland has also reported cases among two residents and one employee, along with two deaths, state health officials reported in their daily COVID-19 news release Thursday.
This comes as cases of the viral disease have surged in Cheshire County and in the state overall.
County Administrator Chris Coates confirmed Maplewood’s case and death numbers, and said the cases are no longer active. He declined to comment further on the outbreak.
Alpine Healthcare’s outbreak began on Aug. 10, state health department spokeswoman Kathy Remillard said Friday.
The 298 Main St. facility told residents’ families in mid-August that a staff member had contracted the virus, according to a Keene woman with a family member living there.
Since then, the woman — whose relative is recovering from a COVID infection and who spoke on the condition of anonymity — said Alpine has provided regular updates on the number of active cases there. It reported Thursday afternoon that 37 residents and 16 staff members had tested positive during the current outbreak, she said.
The state health department’s data, as of Thursday, show the facility having 32 resident cases and another 13 among staff, as well as five deaths. The data discrepancy could be due to the lag time between when facilities report cases and the health department determines whether they constitute an outbreak, which has happened throughout the pandemic.
Alpine owner Avi Goldstein confirmed the outbreak Friday afternoon, saying he did not know how many cases or deaths the facility had in relation to the outbreak. But, when told the numbers from the state health department, he said it “sounds like the same.”
Goldstein wasn’t sure how many cases are considered active, but Remillard said Friday afternoon that there are 13.
All of the deaths were of residents, Goldstein said, adding that “a couple” of them were in hospice prior to the outbreak.
Alpine ended visits to the facility after the first case last month and has told families it is following the state’s public-health guidelines, according to the Keene woman whose relative lives there. Goldstein did not immediately respond Friday afternoon to confirm this.
“I am very worried obviously because COVID’s serious when it comes to seniors ... but from my experience, the staff has been very good,” the woman said. “They work really, really hard. I’ve just known them to be very diligent and hard workers and very loving to the residents.”
Asked by a reporter Friday about Alpine’s current vaccination rates, Goldstein said he didn’t have the exact numbers available. However, he said “they’re very high” among both residents and staff.
Data reported late last month by the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services showed that 92 percent of Alpine residents and 73 percent of staff were vaccinated.
As with other vaccines, it is possible to contract COVID-19 after being immunized — but studies have shown this to be rare, and symptoms should be milder. Of the 398 COVID-19 deaths the state recorded from late January to early September of this year, 7.6 percent were considered breakthrough cases, according to Remillard.
“It is a difficult time, and we’ve been in this for well over a year, and we’re just doing our very best,” Goldstein said. “... I’m really proud of how our team is handling this difficult situation, and we do feel for those who’ve been affected. Our hearts are with them.”
Alpine plans to implement a COVID-19 vaccination mandate among its employees, according to Goldstein, but he said the details are still being fleshed out.
This is in line with a new federal requirement announced last month by President Joe Biden that nursing homes and long-term care facilities must require all workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19 as a condition of Medicare and Medicaid funding. The deadline is not yet clear, according to news reports about the announcement.
Maplewood also has not yet implemented a vaccination mandate. As of Aug. 20, all of Maplewood residents were vaccinated as well as about 75 percent of staff, Coates said at the time.
COVID-19 cases have surged nationally, and hospitals are feeling the impact.
However, in Keene, Cheshire Medical Center’s intensive care unit and emergency department are maintaining normal levels, Amy Matthews, chief nursing officer and vice president of patient care services, said Friday.
Matthews added that hitting full capacity for any department within the hospital is normal, and that over the past week, no one has been turned away from the ICU because of a lack of beds.
The ICU has 10 beds, she said, but typically fluctuates between six and eight depending on staffing levels and community needs.
Dr. Aalok Khole, an infectious disease physician at Cheshire Medical, added that within the past two weeks, there has been a steady uptick in the number of COVID-19 patients within the ICU, making up about half or more of the department’s patient population.
But both he and Matthews stressed that patient levels in the ICU — like any other department — fluctuate rapidly, and that the hospital has several protocols in place to help if it becomes overwhelmed.
As of Friday, there were 337 new cases reported in New Hampshire. Daily case numbers have been rising over the past few months and have recently approached the highest seen since April, after which cases declined until July, according to statistics from the state health department.
The total number of active cases in the state now stands at 3,144. The average number of cases per day for the seven-day period ending Friday has increased 4 percent from the week before.
Hospitalizations have followed the same general upward trend, with 149 people currently in New Hampshire hospitals as of Friday.
In Cheshire County, the number of active cases is at 139, with 54 of those in Keene, according to health department data on Friday.
The county has a 3.5 percent positivity rate over the past seven days, which is the number of positive tests divided by the total number of test results reported. The state’s rate stands at 6.3 percent. Keene’s positivity rate was 2.2 percent, while Hinsdale had the highest positivity rate in the county, at 19.3 percent, New Hampshire health department data on Friday show.
The state says 54 percent of residents are fully vaccinated, with 59 percent having received at least one dose.