South County has first four positive coronavirus cases in outbreak at group home


Photo by Erin Achenbach

At the time this photo was taken in March, three residents and an employee at the South County Habilitation Center had tested positive for COVID-19, the first officially confirmed cases in South County.

By Gloria Lloyd, News Editor

In what marks the first four officially confirmed cases of coronavirus in South County, three residents and an employee of a state-run home for the developmentally disabled have tested positive.

Although health-care workers and residents have said on social media that other cases exist, the cases are also the first officially confirmed cases of coronavirus in South County. The South County Chick-fil-A confirmed an unrelated fifth case Tuesday, an employee at the restaurant.

The first two residents to test positive, a man and a woman, live next to each other in the same unit at the South County Habilitation Center, 2312 Lemay Ferry Road. Both were tested at the hospital and received word of positive tests Sunday, Missouri state officials said.

The center, one of six state-run habilitation centers statewide, is also known as the St. Louis Developmental Disabilities Treatment Center. The center has 45 residents and 200 staffers supporting the residents, a spokeswoman said.

State officials sent out a notification Monday that another resident and a staffer at the center had also tested positive, for four total positive cases.

Two of the residents and the staffer are in isolation at local hospitals, a spokeswoman said. The other resident is in an isolation unit on campus.

Residents who lived in the same home units as the residents with coronavirus are now quarantined in those buildings. Screenings, including temperature checks, are now being conducted regularly on all the residents in homes on campus as well as on each staff member entering the homes.

The staffer who has coronavirus last physically worked at the center March 18, according to a notice sent out by the state Monday. Public visitation had already been suspended at all Department of Mental Health facilities statewide due to the coronavirus, and staff at the South County center have been wearing masks for at least a week.

As of Monday, St. Louis County had at least 323 positive cases and three deaths from the coronavirus, or COVID-19. Most days, the count of cases has been increasing by 30 or more, although cases increased by 70 in the list released Saturday. It’s so many that the county stopped releasing data on ages and gender of patients and now has stopped giving daily numbers reports on cases.

After the residents tested positive, staff were notified along with parents and guardians of other residents.

Rep. Jim Murphy of Oakville, whose legislative district includes the center, said in a statement, “Our prayers go out to all of the patients and staff of The South County Habilitation Center. The courage, dedication and professionalism of the staff in providing care under these trying circumstances is inspirational. My office stands ready to assist in any way possible.”

Sen. Scott Sifton of Affton, the state senator who represents the residents of the center, said, “I am saddened to hear that three residents and  a staff member at the South County Habilitation Center have tested positive for Covid-19. Extra precautions must be taken to protect high-risk groups, especially residents of Missouri’s assisted living facilities and Veterans Homes. I strongly support efforts underway right now in the Missouri Senate to increase financial assistance needed for state and local agencies as they respond to this unprecedented public health emergency.”

The South County cases are among a growing number in the region and state to affect residents of group homes or nursing homes.

State officials did not give the age of the residents affected, but many of the residents in the center are elderly.

A spokeswoman for St. Louis County said that the county is not commenting on individual cases. But the county Department of Public Health has reached out to every long-term care center in the county with information and questions about how prepared each center is to deal with coronavirus.

At the South County Habilitation Center, in addition to isolating the two residents and the residents’ areas, officials said they will be coordinating with the Office of Administration facilities and maintenance staff “for cleaning and disinfection in accordance with the State Workplace Closure and Cleaning protocols.”

“If you are identified as a potential contact of this person, you will be contacted by the St. Louis County Health Department,” the notification about the first resident’s positive case stated. “The St. Louis County Health Department requests that you do not contact them regarding this positive test result; they will contact you if that is appropriate.”

The case adds to a growing number of cases in nursing homes or group homes in Missouri and St. Louis — at least 13 locally. Nationwide, nursing homes have been hit hard by cases of the rapidly spreading respiratory illness known as coronavirus or COVID-19, most notably when 37 residents of a Seattle-area nursing home died in the nation’s first outbreak.