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National Guard sent to Los Angeles-area nursing homes in battle to slow coronavirus outbreaks

National Guard Sgt. Joseph Schlitz enters the Hollywood Premier Healthcare Center, which has seen 25 cases among staff and 29 among residents on Friday, April 24, 2020 in Hollywood, Calif.

BRIAN VAN DER BRUG / LOS ANGELES TIMES/TNS

By MATT HAMILTON, ALEX WIGGLESWORTH, JOHN MYERS, MELANIE MASON | Los Angeles Times | Published: April 25, 2020

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LOS ANGELES (Tribune News Service) — Medical teams from the California National Guard have been dispatched to five nursing homes in Los Angeles County, bolstering staff and resources in facilities that are especially hard-hit by coronavirus outbreaks.

It's part of a larger effort by state and local officials to slow the spread of coronavirus in nursing homes, which have been particularly hard hit. In Los Angeles County alone, 40% of the more than 800 deaths have been at these facilities.

The teams arrived at nursing homes earlier this week, and the sites include Pasadena Meadows Nursing Center in Pasadena and the Motion Picture and Television Country House in Woodland Hills, as well as nursing homes in Hollywood, Gardena and El Monte, according to Lt. Col. Jonathan Shiroma,  public affairs director for the California National Guard.

Each support team includes about five military medics, an administrative sergeant, and a physicians assistant or licensed nurse.

"They'll augment the current staff at the respective skilled nursing facility," said Shiroma, adding that the teams will remain on-site as long as they are needed.

Barbara Ferrer, the L.A. County health director, said Friday that the deployment came in response to a request from the county Department of Public Health that the state help with staffing at nursing homes.

"As we've identified staff that are sick or staff that are positive with COVID-19, they need to stay out of the workplace for an extended period of time, and in places where there are outbreaks, that can mean there are dozens of employees that are appropriately not coming to work," Ferrer said. "So we do have staffing issues in all nursing homes where we've had significant outbreaks."

Gov. Gavin Newsom said Friday that the National Guard would "help support the efforts to isolate, conduct tests and to make sure that we're sharing best practices and protocols within the system."

The National Guard's assistance comes as health authorities have renewed their focus on nursing homes and assisted living facilities in L.A. and across the state.

"In terms of the vulnerable populations, the first priority has to be the skilled nursing facilities," said Dr. Christina Ghaly, health services director for L.A. County. "That's where the majority of the outbreaks have occurred."

On Friday, Ferrer announced a new order that requires all congregate living facilities, including nursing homes, to limit entry to employees only and to end all communal dining. Staff will be required to wear surgical masks and personal protective equipment, and residents will also be required to wear surgical masks or a cloth face covering.

Congregate living facilities will also be required to  test both asymptomatic and symptomatic residents and staff.

"It's become really clear that asymptomatic people are in fact, both infected with the virus and capable of shedding the virus, and that means they're capable of  infecting others," Ferrer said. "So in places where we have a lot of vulnerable people who reside — and that's our nursing homes, all of our long-term care facilities — it's really important to acknowledge ... this new reality."

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