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Chula Vista veterans home adjusts to fend off the coronavirus threat

The road is closed to visitors at the Veterans Home of California, Chula Vista on May 14, 2020 in San Diego, Calif.

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By ANDREW DYER | The San Diego Union-Tribune | Published: May 18, 2020

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SAN DIEGO (Tribune News Service) — Residents of San Diego County's only state veterans home in Chula Vista are living under new constraints, as officials work to keep the coronavirus outside the facility's walls.

So far, its director says, that's working.

Thuy Mascorro, the director of the California Department of Veterans Affairs home in Chula Vistas has been monitoring for the virus since February — weeks before precautions became common and statewide stay-at-home orders were issued.

So far, no residents in the Chula Vista CalVet home are showing signs of the virus, she said, declining to give more specifics.

The Chula Vista home houses 283 veterans in total. Some live in its skilled nursing facility, others live in its less medically intensive assisted living areas, and others live independently at the home.

The home is part of a network of eight CalVet homes in the state. So far three residents statewide have contracted the virus and two have died of it, the Los Angeles Times reported Monday.

By contrast, more than 70 veterans have died of the disease at a "soldiers' home" in Massachusetts; more than 125 have died in New Jersey's three homes, and more than 60 residents of an Alabama veterans home tested positive and eight have died, the paper reported.

"I'm really proud of our accomplishments and really proud of CalVet," Mascorro said during a phone interview.

Since the pandemic, visitation at the Chula Vista home has been limited to "compassionate care" for residents at the end of their lives, Mascorro said.

"For our residents, that's a big change," she said. "But they're very understanding — they've all heard the horror stories."

Resident John Farrell, 79, said he misses his family visits the most.

"That's hard on me and hard on my grandchildren," he said when reached by phone. Farrell is one of 81 residents living independently at the facility.

Farrell served in the Army as a reporter for Stars and Stripes in the early 1960s before returning to San Diego to practice law. He said before the pandemic he'd have visitors at least once a week and would regularly meet friends out for lunch.

Now, he's limited to Facebook and, like all residents at the home, takes his meals in his room.

"Social distancing is a little hard to get accustomed to but now it's the norm," he said. "It may just keep us alive, so I support it."

Facility staff have their temperatures checked when reporting to work every day and are screened for other COVID-19 symptoms, Mascorro said.

Testing began last week for all 170 skilled nursing residents, and it will begin for all staff next week.

"We work closely with the county and the VA," she said. "We're going to test everybody, but we have to do it systematically."

As for medical care, Mascorro said there's round-the-clock medical coverage at the home. Medical appointments outside the facility have mostly gone virtual — with the San Diego VA and private providers — and transportation is provided for anyone who needs to be seen off-site.

"We are trying to accommodate as much as possible," she said.

Residents are not completely isolated from one another, Mascorro said.

They can still congregate in groups smaller than 10 people as long as they maintain recommended social distancing. They also have been given masks and are able to use the home's recreation options such as the putting green and the pool table.

"I think, for the most part, they are keeping themselves busy," she said. "We try to be as normal as possible while maintaining safety."

Farrell said, for the most part, his fellow residents are taking the changes in stride.

"The morale is high; there's not a lot of grumping about it — it is what it is," he said. "It's like when it rains on your birthday. Everybody's anxious for it to be over but also anxious for it not to be rushed."

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