National Guard Deployed to Disinfect Texas Nursing Homes

(AP Photo/John Minchillo)

AUSTIN, Texas (CN) — Teams of disinfectant-toting Texas National Guard troops are fanning out across the state to fight Covid-19 in the trenches, at nursing homes on the front lines of the battle against the virus.

Republican Governor Greg Abbott announced Wednesday the state has deployed six teams of National Guardsmen, trained by hazard-response specialists with the Texas Military Department 6th Civil Support Team, to help clean nursing homes.

“Each team is equipped with unique supplies such as advanced personal protective equipment, ionized sprayers, and Vital Oxide,” Abbott said.

Vital Oxide is a disinfectant made of chlorine dioxide, which has been used to snuff out MRSA infestations in schools and hospitals. 

More than 4 million Americans live in nursing homes and skilled nursing facilities each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Even before Covid-19 was unleashed in the United States, with the first known deadly outbreak starting in February at a nursing home in Kirkland, Wash., long-term care facilities struggled to protect their residents from infections. “As many as 380,000 people die of the infections in LTCFs every year,” the CDC says.

Texas’ first major outbreak was at a nursing home in Texas City, in Galveston County, where more than 80 residents tested positive

As of Wednesday, 447 nursing home residents and 95 residents of assisted-living facilities have died from Covid-19 complications in Texas, according to the state’s Health and Human Services Commission. Those deaths account for around 44% of the state’s count of 1,216 Texans who have died from the virus.

The virus has spared some nursing homes in rural areas.

None of the 46 residents at the S.P.J.S.T. Skilled Nursing & Rehabilitation home in El Campo, 80 miles southwest of Houston, have been infected, nor have any staff, its administrator Rowena Smith said in a phone interview.

The home is taking its employees’ temperature every time they leave and reenter the building and making them wear masks, and has changed the type of sanitizer it uses in accordance with recommendations from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Smith said.

She said she could not comment on Abbott’s deployment of National Guard troops because she had not heard anything about it.

Abbott announced the deployment two days after he issued a directive calling for Covid-19 testing of every resident and employee of all the state’s 1,224 licensed nursing homes.

Smith said the state has not given her a date when that testing will start.

Many elderly nursing home residents suffer from dementia and are bedridden and they could be startled by National Guard troops clad in hazmat suits coming into their rooms and spraying disinfectants.

Kevin Warren, president and CEO of the Texas Health Care Association, said he welcomes any new resources to fight Covid-19.

“To allay any fears and concerns, it’s important that upfront early communication is done with the buildings to prepare staff and residents for visits,” he said in an email.

Abbott is relying heavily on the National Guard.

He has deployed 1,200 National Guard personnel to run Covid-19 mobile testing sites, and sent members of the Texas National Guard 36th Infantry Division to help the company Prestige Ameritech manufacture masks 24/7 at its plant in Fort Worth. The troops are also helping at food banks.

The state had 43,851 reported cases as of Thursday afternoon, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.  

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