41 residents, 7 workers at Symphony Northwoods Care Centre have tested positive for coronavirus

BELVIDERE — Symphony Northwoods Care Centre is on lockdown and staff are checking residents' temperatures six times a day and their own temperatures twice a day in an effort to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus.

But for weeks, the virus hasn't stopped spreading through the 113-bed nursing home. COVID-19 has claimed the lives of seven residents at Symphony Northwoods as of Friday. Another 41 residents and seven employees have tested positive for the virus.

Health departments in Boone and Winnebago counties have identified more than a dozen congregant living homes as COVID-19 "locations of concern." The situation is most grave at Symphony Northwoods, 2250 Pearl St.

The Belvidere facility is one of Symphony Care Network's 28 nursing homes in the Midwest. The company named Dr. Alexander Stemer, an infectious disease physician, to lead its systemwide COVID-19 response team.

The company is limiting or prohibiting visitor contact with residents and minimizing contact among residents and staff at all of its nursing homes, Stemer said in a Facebook video published to the Symphony Northwoods Facebook page on Wednesday. Residents are provided drug and medical treatment soon after they show signs of COVID-19 symptoms, and staff are testing residents swiftly as possible so that those who are sick with COVID-19 can be separated from those free of the disease, Stemer said.

Belvidere Mayor Mike Chamberlain said that Symphony executives have reached out to him to explain how they're responding to the pandemic. The Belvidere nursing home has been placed on lockdown for weeks, Chamberlain said, meaning that no family members or friends are allowed entry to visit with residents.

Boone County Health Department reported Friday that 125 county residents have tested positive for coronavirus and seven have died from COVID-19 since the outbreak began. Congregant living facilities remain the county’s hot spots, Chamberlain said.

"When you have this spread in the most vulnerable populations, the majority of our cases and our deaths here are in senior facilities or in senior apartments," Chamberlain said.

Staff at congregant living homes must wear personal protection equipment to prevent the spread of the virus because the nature of the job makes it difficult to practice social distancing, said Beth Squires, coordinator of the public health program at Northern Illinois University.

"The staff should be monitored for symptoms every day," Squires said. "If I was running a group home I’d make sure that all staff that are working with the residents before they start a shift their temperatures are checked and that they sign off that they're not experiencing any other symptoms like shortness of breath or cough. I would check them at least once during the shift and of course before they leave for the day."

There were 464 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 18 deaths attributed to the disease in Winnebago County as of Friday, according to the county health department.

An increase of COVID-19 cases at a congregant living home in Winnebago County prompts the health department's Congregate Strike Team to investigate. The team looks for gaps or lapses in recommended COVID-19 procedures and guidelines and then works with the facility to remedy any shortcomings.

"Are they bringing in someone coming from the outside?" said Winnebago County Public Preparedness Health Director Theresa James. "Is there somebody who is working but might be asymptomatic but they're positive?

"So, it would require a lot more investigation and that’s what the strike team has been put together for — to try and identify that," she said.

James is confident that most congregant living facilities in Winnebago County have been provided the education and information they need and are implementing the proper measures to keep residents and staff safe.

"There have only been a couple of instances that we need to just take a little bit deeper look," James said. "Are they providing the educational materials to the necessary staff? Are they providing it to everyone?

"This also goes all the way down to the people who make the food, the people who clean the rooms," James said. "The strike team is there to make sure they are being as thorough as they possibly can."

Shaquil Manigault; smanigault@rrstar.com; @RstarShaquil