More than 800 people at the Hebrew Home of Greater Washington, including residents and staffers, have received the first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine. This comes as the Maryland Department of Health reported 90 resident deaths at the nursing home from COVID since the start of the pandemic, as of Jan. 6.
The Hebrew Home in Rockville is part of the Charles E. Smith Life Communities. It was designated as a priority tier-1 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the highest priority for receiving the COVID vaccine. A team of pharmacists and other workers from CVS administered the vaccine on site from Jan. 2 through Jan. 5, according to Brenda Rice, vice president of operations for Charles E. Smith Life Communities.
“The residents were excited to receive the vaccine,” Rice said. “They really want to see their family members again. Some of them haven’t even been able to go outside to see their loved ones. So everybody’s excited.”
She said 80 percent of Hebrew Home residents received the vaccine along with a number of staff and contractors who work on the campus. Vaccinations were voluntary, but Rice said she was unaware of any eligible residents declining the vaccine. Rice has gotten the vaccine and described the process as “easy.”
“I decided to be part of the solution here of controlling this virus,” Rice said. “The safer the community is, the safer my employees will be, the safer my residents will be.”
Rice said there were no abnormal reactions to the virus among residents, with only a few reporting sore arms, headaches or fatigue. Some people were ineligible to get vaccinated if they had tested positive for COVID at least two weeks before the vaccination date. The second dose of the vaccine is scheduled to be administered Jan. 23 through Jan. 26. Rice said it was possible for people to get their first dose at the second round of vaccinations.
Staff from the agency were able to be vaccinated at the Hebrew Home’s Wasserman Residence and Smith-Kogod Residence. However, Rice said Charles E. Smith Life Communities did not get permission from the government to roll out the vaccine to their assisted living and independent living residents. This includes the Cohen-Rosen House, Landow House, Revitz House and Ring House.
The Maryland Department of Health has reported 295 resident cases and 273 staff cases of COVID with zero staff deaths at Hebrew Home. Charles E. Smith Life Communities lists 25 residents and 35 staff who have active cases across its facilities, according to its website. The Hebrew Home itself is listed as having 18 resident and 31 staff active cases.
Out of the 44 nursing homes, assisted living facilities and group homes in Montgomery County listed on the state’s coronavirus tracking website, Hebrew Home is documented as having the highest number of resident and staff cases and resident deaths due to COVID.
Rice attributes this to the size of Hebrew Home, which has 556 beds. Rice said the average capacity for a nursing home in Maryland is 130. All six of Charles E. Smith Life Communities facilities collectively have a capacity for 1,134 residents, according to its website.
Asked when normal visitation to the home will resume, Rice said she doesn’t know. She said the home will continue to conduct bi-weekly testing of staff, and require mask wearing and maintaining social distancing for the foreseeable future.
“So once you have the vaccine, there’s about 95 percent coverage. So there still is the potential that you could have COVID and be a carrier. You’re just going to be asymptomatic and your symptoms are going to be far less than what you would have been if you hadn’t had the vaccine,” Rice said.
On Dec. 3, the CDC recommended that initial supplies of COVID-19 vaccines be allocated to healthcare personnel and long-term care facility residents. The next phase includes frontline workers like firefighters and police officers, along with people over the age of 75. The third phase includes people aged 65-74, people aged 16-64 years with underlying medical conditions and other essential workers like those working in food service or transportation.