One dead in new Valley Hi COVID-19 outbreak

The outbreak appears to have started with employees, but no one has been hospitalized

Valley Hi Nursing Home is seen on Tuesday, Aug. 17, 2021, in Woodstock.

One person has died during an outbreak of COVID-19 at Valley Hi Nursing Home in Woodstock that hit the facility at the end of October.

Seven employees and 17 residents have tested positive for the virus since Oct. 25, according to records obtained in a Freedom of Information Act request. The facility’s notes indicate one resident, who was in hospice care before becoming ill, died Monday.

The outbreak appears to have begun when an employee tested positive Oct. 25, a week after the employee’s son also had tested positive for COVID-19, according to documents. A second unvaccinated employee tested positive Oct. 28, followed by a resident Nov. 1.

COVID-19 still was spreading in the facility as recently as Nov. 27, when a seventh employee tested positive.

Two residents remained isolated in the building’s COVID-19 ward Thursday, Valley Hi Administrator Tom Annarella said. The building is not on lockdown, and visitors are not being restricted.

Although staff knows the outbreak began with a pair of employees testing positive, Annarella said, it isn’t sure exactly what caused the virus to spread to the resident population.

Valley Hi has followed all proper procedures and reporting processes during the outbreak, McHenry County Department of Health spokeswoman Lindsey Salvatelli said.

The current outbreak at the facility is its first in about 11 months after a deadly outbreak at the end of last December. An investigation into the facility during that outbreak by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and Illinois Department of Public Health found Valley Hi mishandled the outbreak by keeping residents with COVID-19 in the same room as residents who tested negative, resulting in a $16,250 fine.

The facility is taking the current outbreak seriously, Annarella said. It began testing potentially exposed residents after the first employee tested positive.

“We have also shifted to twice-weekly testing of residents and staff, which will continue for the next week or so, at which time we will shift back to weekly testing of staff,” he said. “All staff are also wearing N-95 masks throughout their shift.”

Annarella noted this outbreak is different than the one last year, at which time no staff or residents were vaccinated.

“The biggest difference is that most cases were either asymptomatic or very mild symptoms,” he said. “We did not have to send anyone to the hospital for emergency services either.”

Of the 24 people at Valley Hi to get the virus, 22 people were fully vaccinated, according to facility notes. This includes all 17 residents and the one person who died.

Less than 1% of people who are fully vaccinated in Illinois have been hospitalized or died from COVID-19, according to the IDPH, but breakthrough cases are most common among people older than 65 and those with weakened immune systems.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends everyone get a booster COVID-19 vaccine six months after receiving their second dose of Pfizer or Moderna or first dose of Johnson & Johnson.

McHenry County continues to see breakthrough cases, Salvatelli said, and the health department is encouraging everyone 18 and older who received their initial COVID-19 shots six or more months ago to get booster shots.

Valley Hi was scheduled to offer booster shots to staff and residents later in December, but they moved the clinic up to Thursday.

“We have all eligible residents who wanted a booster vaccinated, and we have a lot of staff receiving the booster, as well as some first and second doses [Thursday],” Annarella said.

As of Nov. 14, Valley Hi had vaccinated 81.9% of staff members and 95.5% of residents, according to the IDPH.

Annarella said long-term care is seeing more breakthrough cases. Many residents and employees at long-term care facilities received their vaccines more than six months ago at the beginning of 2021.

“There appears to be a waning efficacy of the vaccine in those individuals that received the vaccine in the first rounds, such as those living in congregate living and nursing homes,” Annarella said. “This is why the booster program for the elderly is so important.”