For the fourth week in a row, the state health department has reported COVID-19 cases at Alpine Healthcare Center, amid an outbreak at the Keene nursing home.
Based on the state’s data, Alpine’s case total surpasses that of any other active outbreak at a New Hampshire long-term care facility.
As of Wednesday, 62 residents and 22 staff members had tested positive for the viral disease since the outbreak started Aug. 10, according to the N.H. Department of Health and Human Services’ statewide COVID update that day. This includes five more resident cases and seven more employee cases since the state’s totals last week.
Alpine Healthcare reported slightly higher case numbers to residents’ families Wednesday, a Keene woman with a relative living at the Main Street nursing home told The Sentinel under the condition of anonymity.
In a message she shared with a reporter, families were told there have been 63 cases among residents and 26 among employees since the outbreak began, and that three of them — involving two residents and one staff member — are still considered active.
Six deaths have been attributed to the Alpine outbreak — the same number reported last week, according to the state health department.
Alpine owner Avi Goldstein has not responded to multiple requests for comment in recent weeks and could not be reached Thursday.
Asked by a reporter about the nursing home’s vaccination rates Sept. 10, Goldstein said he didn’t have the precise numbers readily available but called the rates “very high” among residents and staff.
As of Sept. 12, 89 percent of residents and 74 percent of staff had been vaccinated, according to the most recently available data reported by the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.
As with other vaccines, it is possible to contract COVID-19 after being immunized, though studies show such cases are rare and that viral symptoms are typically milder.
There are several reasons why a large outbreak could occur, even in a population with relatively high vaccination rates, according to Dr. Aalok Khole, an infectious-disease expert at Cheshire Medical Center in Keene.
Many nursing home residents were among the first people to get vaccinated against COVID-19, he noted, and evidence suggests that immunization begins to wane after about six months, limiting the body’s response to the virus.
Seniors, generally, are also more likely to get very sick from the viral disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And if they have an underlying medical condition, that increases their risk as well.
Despite this, vaccines are still highly effective in preventing severe disease, hospitalization and death, Khole says.
Alpine plans to require that all its employees get inoculated, Goldstein told The Sentinel last month, though details for that mandate were still being worked on at the time.
This is in line with a new federal requirement announced in August 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.
Alpine’s outbreak comes as COVID-19 infections have surged in Cheshire County and across New Hampshire. There were 184 known active cases in the county and more than 3,800 in the state as of Thursday morning, according to data from the state health department.
Long-term care facilities are especially vulnerable during the pandemic because the virus is known to travel quickly through congregate-living settings due to the close proximity of residents, according to health officials.
Wednesday’s update from the state also lists nine other outbreaks at nursing homes, retirement communities and jails (including in Keene) across New Hampshire, totaling 163 cases between staff and residents. Two deaths have been reported from active outbreaks at Colonial Poplin Nursing & Rehabilitation in Fremont and Riverside Rest Home in Dover.