Undisclosed number of deaths confirmed in convalescent home outbreak in which 65 residents and staffers tested positive for COVID-19


Update, April 22 5:15 p.m.: Sources within the city have stated that four people are now dead as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak at Central Gardens. Messages for its spokesman, the California Department of Public Health, and the San Francisco Department of Public Health have not yet been returned.

Original story, 4 p.m., April 21: Management has confirmed that the COVID-19 outbreak at the Central Gardens Convalescent Hospital, in which at least 38 aged residents and 27 staff tested positive, has been a lethal one.

It denied, however, the contention made by workers here that they weeks ago demanded all employees and staff be tested for the virus — and were turned down. 

“What is your source for that misstatement?” wrote facility spokesman Daniel Kramer. 

That would be employees of Central Gardens, a convalescent hospital located at 1355 Ellis St. in the Fillmore area, a stone’s throw from Japantown. A patient tested positive here on March 30 — news that was transmitted to the San Francisco Department of Public Health and, days later, workers on site. 

“When we found out about that initial patient, we all felt concerned and had a meeting,” said an employee here. “We said everybody needs to get tested: All the workers and all the patients.” 

This worker says that proposition was denied by management: “If you didn’t have a fever, you couldn’t get tested. Only a couple of people had fevers. Those were the ones who got tested.” 

Kramer confirmed that most of those who tested positive were asymptomatic, with some showing “mild to moderate symptoms.” 

He affirmed that this outbreak has been a lethal one, but has not yet answered how many people have died and whether they were residents or employees. 

While we have worked hard to keep the virus out of our facility, like many other healthcare facilities we have now had positive tests among our residents,” Kramer wrote. “In light of the pandemic, we have enhanced our infection control protocols in a number of ways, consistent with guidance provided by the CDC, CMS and other federal, state and local healthcare authorities.”

“Those enhancements include, among others, restricting non-medically necessary visits to our facility, screening employees and residents for symptoms and high temperatures, isolating persons who show signs or symptoms, and avoiding group activities where possible.”

Non-medically necessary visits to senior facilities have been forbidden in San Francisco since a March 10 order issued by county Health Officer Dr. Tomás Aragón.

Workers at Central Gardens said safety protocols were not always followed with necessary diligence. 

While the facility has essentially been divided into two wings — sick and healthy — it’s not clear workers who ministered to the sick properly changed their personal protective equipment (PPE) before leaving that area. 

“Some people did not understand if you’re wearing PPE you have to stay there and take it off before coming out,” said one worker — who saw colleagues wearing potentially contaminated PPE in the break room. 

The resident who tested positive on March 30, staff told Mission Local, was prone to urinary tract infections. “When we noticed her fever, we were alarmed,” said one worker on-site. “But there was a lot of brushing it off because that patient was prone to UTI.” 

This patient purportedly tested negative. But she was allegedly hospitalized after her fever could not be controlled — “and that’s when we got a call back saying she was positive.” 

Central Gardens’ Medicare page lists 92 certified beds and an average of just under 85 daily residents. Staff tells Mission Local that patients whose fevers could not be mitigated with Tylenol or who experienced shortness of breath have been sent to the hospital. Management did not answer queries about how many patients are now on-site, but one worker estimated it was only around 60. 

Some two-and-a-half weeks after workers here say they demanded universal testing, personnel from the state Department of Public Health came on site and did just that. 

CDPH has sent a team of infection control preventionists, in partnership with county health staff, to Central Gardens to ensure infection measures are in place, mitigate further infections, assist with isolating residents, and assess exposures,” the state body confirmed. 

“Lots of our staff were very pleased,” said one staffer. 

Since that time, this worker said, the containment plans have been kept to more diligently. This employee did not feel uneasy going to work. 

“We take our infection control protocols very seriously, and we are in communication with local and state health authorities about the positive tests we have had,” Kramer wrote.  

“We want to limit the spread to the greatest extent possible. We will continue to follow the guidance they have provided us to limit risk to residents and staff. We continue to closely monitor the health of all of our residents and staff, both for their well-being and for the well-being others in our facility.”

Mission Local’s calls to Central Gardens were forwarded to its spokesman, Kramer. Our calls to its Utah-based ownership group were forwarded to Jim Mitchell, its attorney.