LAKE OF THE OZARKS, Mo. — The Lake area has seen a recent rise in Covid-19-related deaths, as multiple regional nursing homes battle outbreaks. Of the tri-county area's 30 Covid-related deaths, 14 have been at two local nursing homes, mostly in the past few weeks.
Lake of the Ozarks, during one of the busiest summers anyone can remember, seemed nearly immune to coronavirus. National news coverage brought unprecedented attention to the Lake, and visitor numbers spiked in a summer when much of the country suffered under the economically devastating shutdowns imposed by state and local governments.
Through it all, Lake of the Ozarks’ case numbers, hospitalization numbers, and death numbers—as reported by the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services—remained relatively low. (View the DHSS Covid Dashboard)
This fall, as cases rise across the Midwest, the Lake area is following the regional trend. Until September 12, Camden County’s (the most populous of the Lake area’s three counties) seven-day new case average never rose above 12 (meaning in a given one-week span, the average number of daily new cases never rose above 12). But that number climbed quickly in the latter half of September, with the seven-day new case average in the 20s; notably, PCR testing statewide was on the rise, 137,075 tests on Sept. 13, contrasted with 38,213 tests about four months earlier, on May 17.
As of Oct. 15, the Lake area’s three main counties have seen 2,602 positive Covid-19 cases. The more crucial metric of Covid-related deaths rose significantly during the latter part of September and early October. As of Oct. 15, the Lake area’s three counties have seen a total of 30 Covid-related deaths, with 22 of those in Camden County and the vast majority of them in the past month.
Crucially, the ratio of deaths-to-cases statewide is in decline.
But for those who watch the MODHSS numbers regularly, the rise in deaths at the Lake still provokes a need to know. What happened in the past month?
The answer: multiple senior living facilities at the Lake have recently experienced outbreaks, and the virus did what increasing stacks of data from 2020 shows it tends to do. It took a heavy toll on people over the age of 80.
NHC Osage Beach had a census of about 65 residents in early September. By the middle of October, 51 residents had contracted the coronavirus and 10 had perished, with their deaths marked as Covid-related. Of NHC’s staff, 36 also contracted the virus.
NHC Osage Beach Administrator David Sauer spoke candidly to LakeExpo about the center’s outbreak, and why the virus was so devastating there.
NHC had zero cases this whole year, until early September, Sauer said. On Aug. 31, the DHSS mandated every senior care facility test every staff member. When the tests returned, NHC discovered one asymptomatic employee had Covid-19. That employee was sent home to recover, and the next round of testing showed one more asymptomatic employee had the virus. Then, cases accelerated quickly: another batch of testing showed 16 residents were Covid-positive.
NHC had procedures for isolating residents and trying to control the virus, but Sauer says it was an uphill battle for several reasons.
First, employees were contracting the virus simultaneous to residents; that means uninfected (or already recovered) staff were stretched thin. They worked extra hours, and NHC had to call in outside help. Sauer says NHC management and staff experienced firsthand the overwhelming challenge of providing care even more intensive than normal. For elderly people who are already weak, the virus saps their waning strength and their will to eat or drink. "It takes a lot of energy out of people. Residents are not eating and drinking, losing the desire to take in nutrition and hydrate," he said.
Sauer recently sat with a woman in her 90s who, feeling poorly, had refused to drink water. "I sat with her for 30 minutes, and got her to drink water, and that helped," he said. But when the virus is ravaging dozens of residents at a time, there’s only so much already-stretched staff can do. Families of residents have expressed their gratitude for the grueling work NHC staff has been persevering in, week after week, he said.
Additionally, Sauer says test result turnaround times crippled their ability to identify who needed to be moved. The DHSS says the current turnaround time for test results in Missouri is about 2.2 days, and while Sauer says that is pretty accurate for NHC's test results now, such was not the case as the outbreak began. The frustrating reality for NHC was they simply could not find a regional lab capable of returning rapid results, Sauer said. While they waited for days to get results back in the early days of the outbreak, Sauer said, staff had no way of knowing which patients might be Covid-positive and needed to be isolated.
Of NHC’s 10 deaths, Sauer says 5 of the patients were age 90 or older, and all had preexisting health conditions or comorbidities and had been on hospice care at some point. One had terminal cancer and was not expected to live much longer.
NHC tries not to turn away any patients seeking care, Sauer said. So, he explained, "Our [NHC’s] population is also very old and sick even by senior care standards." However, Sauer noted, the virus was far from a certain death sentence for the elderly. He watched some residents in their 90s who contracted Covid-19 recover within 10 days.
NHC has been hit the hardest, at the Lake. Of the area’s 30 deaths, 1/3rd have been there. View NHC's Covid Dashboard.
But that is not the only senior care facility in the region to experience an outbreak. StoneBridge Senior Living, behind Prewitt's Point Shopping Center in Osage Beach, has also endured a recent outbreak. According to their website, StoneBridge has had 16 positive cases and 4 Covid-related deaths.
Nursing home/senior care facility deaths account for approximately half—or more—of the Lake area's total death numbers.
LakeExpo spoke with several local nursing facilities, who provided their data as of Oct. 15. That information is below.
Lake area nursing/senior facility Covid stats
(Resident cases & deaths)
NHC Osage Beach — 51 cases; 10 deaths
StoneBridge Senior Living — 16 positive cases, 4 deaths; StoneBridge currently has 48 residents; 15 of the positive cases and all 4 deaths have been in their skilled nursing unit (1 case and no deaths in their assisted living area) - View StoneBridge's Covid Dashboard
Arrowhead Senior Living — 3 positive residents, 0 deaths
Rock Island Village — 0 cases; a facility spokesperson noted they have paid more than 250 hours of overtime, as there have been no cases among residents but staff members' children have gotten it at school, so those staff members must stay home
Lake Parke Senior Living — 0 cases
Windsor Estates — [info not available at publish time]