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Jones-Harrison infection preventionist: ‘Our entire facility has been COVID free for 21 days now’

February 12, 2021

This community reporting project documents the coronavirus pandemic by recording the personal stories of Minneapolis residents and workers whose daily lives are in a state of flux. All interviews are conducted over the phone, and conversations are edited for length and clarity.

Barb Joyce, infection preventionist, Jones-Harrison senior living

Our entire facility has been COVID free for 21 days now, which makes us very hopeful. And the Hennepin County positivity rates are on the decline.

Last Friday we got the second dose of the vaccine. When it’s all said and done, 95% of my residents in assisted living and skilled nursing have been fully vaccinated and 73% of our staff signed up and received at least one dose. About 25 employees will get their second dose in March. These numbers are higher than the norm. We are ecstatic.

The vaccination was chaotic, but usually when you’re in chaos, you feel heavy. This was a good chaos. We were very grateful there was no COVID in the building when the vaccination came our way. We were very celebratory.

Every single one of our tenants and employees who wanted to participate had to be vaccinated on the same day in January. This probably wasn’t the best way of doing it because the side effects of the vaccine caused staffing issues.

The second dose of the Moderna vaccine packed more of a punch. After the first one, I just had a sore arm. But after the second, I was down for a day. I woke up at 4 a.m. with a splitting headache. I had a fever, body aches and chills. I tried to sleep but couldn’t, so I tried to distract myself with Netflix in bed. By 5 p.m. the following day I was sound asleep and the following morning I was completely fine.

It was the same for many people on our staff. They felt like they were hit by a truck. It seems like those who had severe reactions to COVID had a worse reaction to the vaccine. Some people felt they just couldn’t work, but we had to keep operating. We were scrambling a little but we muddled through.

Interestingly, there weren’t really side effects from the vaccine for our residents. We were trying to figure out why they tolerated it better than us. We thought it may have been that their immune response was weaker than ours (which is what makes them so vulnerable to the virus).

Gov. [Tim] Walz was at our facility on Tuesday and said that we’ve fought COVID on the front lines and are winning. [Walz called Jones-Harrison’s vaccination of 400 residents “a great achievement.”] His words were charming. If you would have gone back a few months, it didn’t feel like we were winning — it felt like we were failing. But “winning” was the word I had on the inside of my head as I was calculating our vaccination rates. His speech was validating. I’ve been giddy at the success of where we’re at.

I chuckle at everybody because, after the second round of shots, people have been saying, “Perfect, you’re fully vaccinated, what’s next?” I say, “Slow down, young whippersnappers, we are not fully immunized. It’s not yet two weeks after our second vaccination date.”

Once I feel safe enough to travel again, my No. 1 priority is to visit my dad, who’s 95 and lives in Twinsburg, Ohio, with his wife. He’s already received his first dose. My second priority is to go back to California and plan my mother’s memorial. I will still mask and social distance, but I feel that with health care staff being vaccinated, I can make this happen.

So far at Jones-Harrison, everything is still status quo except for testing. We’ve decreased our testing based on the COVID numbers in the building and the fact that the county positivity rate is low. We’ve now decreased COVID testing to every other week. For the first time, we’re in what we call “surveillance testing” instead of “outbreak testing.”

I have staff members vacationing in areas of high incidence, which is a concern for me that they’ll bring the virus back into our facility. So I’m testing them more frequently. I’m testing them upon return, five days later, ten days later and then at 15 days.

The question now is: How do we use all our resources to get back to a new normal? On Monday, we’re going to be talking about how to reopen our exercise facility and our pool. But some of the guidance on resolving an outbreak and opening is still being written. You don’t want to blow it. It would be the worst feeling in the world to think you’re almost done and then be back into it.

About three weeks ago, we had a little in-home encounter with COVID.

Our 25-year-old daughter, Genna, has an apartment in Minneapolis but has been part of our “isolation bubble” during COVID, staying in our guest room with her dogs. She works as a behavioral therapist with children with autism, and she had a COVID outbreak at her workplace. After she found out through the office message board, she left our home and went immediately to get tested and was positive. So my husband and I had been exposed to COVID.

I worked from home for two weeks while we quarantined. If we had gotten COVID, I wouldn’t have been able to get my second dose of the vaccine. Genna had already had one vaccination. Luckily, she had relatively mild symptoms and we’re all good to go again.

But I will tell you that there is a stigma attached to COVID, just like with HIV or other communicable diseases. People are quick to second-day quarterback and say, “See, you shouldn’t have been in the home” or “See, you should have gotten tested more frequently.”

Genna felt horrible. She thought she gave it to us. She thought she killed her parents — she went down that drama route. I said, “Every time we exit the door, we put ourselves at risk. We do everything we can in our control to the best of our ability and that’s all we can do. If it comes our way, it comes our way, and we’ll deal with it.”

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