Riverview Retirement Community had a good thing going — until an unexplained outbreak appeared to put its high resident vaccination rate to the test.

CEO Mike Drew told McKnight’s Senior Living that the Spokane, WA, continuing care retirement community’s assisted living community went 15 months without a single COVID-19 case. That changed on May 11 when a resident who went to the hospital tested positive for the virus. Based on advice from the Spokane Regional Health District, the senior living community tested every resident and employee. The result was 21 positive resident cases and five positive staff cases. 

The kicker: those testing positive were fully vaccinated. Riverview participated in the federal COVID-19 vaccination clinics in January and February, securing a resident vaccination rate of 98% and a staff vaccination rate around 52%. Drew continues to provide access to vaccines in the community as well.

No vaccine is 100% effective, Drew said, adding, however, that breakthrough COVID-19 cases tend to be less severe. Those who have tested positive have experienced a variety of symptoms, but none of the cases at Riverview have been severe, he told KXLY in Spokane.

In Washington state, assisted living communities and nursing homes remain under Phase 1 of the state’s Healthy Washington – Roadmap to Recovery plan, whereas its independent living residents are in Phase 3. Under Phase 1, assisted living residents are able to have in-room visitors as long as one person is vaccinated. Washington’s assisted living communities also continue to follow mask mandates, Drew told McKnight’s.

With the cluster of breakthrough cases, the assisted living community —  which now has gone through two rounds of testing — will remain in quarantine until it goes two weeks without a positive case. Employees who test positive quarantine at home for 10 to 14 days. 

“Our residents have been so positive,” Drew said, citing the high resident vaccination rate. “When other long-term care facilities around us had cases, we were zero, zero, zero for 15 months in a row.” 

New outbreak affects staffing levels

The sudden rise in breakthrough cases has had a negative effect on staffing. Drew said some staff members are “scared and reluctant” to come to work. The community is proactively sharing information about vaccines and providing personal protective equipment, but he’s still had to dip into the state’s emergency reserve to maintain adequate staffing levels.

“To have no cases for 15 months, there is a certain smugness that can set in,” he said. “Breakthrough cases in a facility that has not had any can be a little scary for employees.”

Drew said he doesn’t know how or why the virus came into the community, adding that the health department has not conducted contract tracing. He said the community has worked hard to follow guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the state Department of Health, the governor’s office and the Spokane Regional Health District to ensure that it is in compliance with all federal, state and local regulations and guidance.

The community continues to “strongly encourage” its employees and residents to get vaccinated.