Coronavirus Hits Texas Living Center For Disabled Persons

Mar 30, 2020
Originally published on March 30, 2020 7:16 am
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We have heard how COVID-19 can spread quickly in nursing homes or in other managed care facilities. There is another such case in the city of Denton, Texas - just north of Dallas - at a home for people with severe disabilities. Forty-five residents and nine staff members have tested positive for COVID-19.

Public health officials are now working to try and slow the spread and identify those that have been infected. And as you can imagine, the entire situation is just emotionally excruciating for the families of those who live there. Here's Christopher Connelly from our member station KERA.

CHRISTOPHER CONNELLY, BYLINE: More than 400 people live here at the Denton State Supported Living Center. And on this sunny Sunday, few cars are driving past the squat guard house and the rust-colored stone wall that surrounds the sprawling, green campus. Sundays are when Emilie and Tim Sherrod come to visit their sons, Ty and Tate.

EMILIE SHERROD: We go in the apartment. We maybe shower, get the boys shaved, dressed up in their cutest clothes. And we go in dad's pickup truck, which is a big deal for them.

CONNELLY: But they haven't been in weeks to visit their 24-year-old sons. Emilie Sherrod says her boys, who are nonverbal, autistic and have intellectual disabilities, have lived there for five years. But in mid-March, she got a letter saying the center was restricting visitation.

SHERROD: To hear that they were actually locked down and we didn't have that option - it just really upped the ante.

CONNELLY: By the next week, four residents tested positive for COVID-19. And that grim count has continued to climb. Last Friday, Ty and Tate were tested. And mom Emilie is still waiting for results. But she says they're pretty healthy and not showing any symptoms. She trusts the center's administration, she says. But...

SHERROD: It's very, very hard right now. We're just kind of from the outside looking in and trying to be positive.

CONNELLY: Last week, as the number of cases surged, state and local officials said they're working closely to coordinate care. Denton County Public Health Director Matt Richardson.

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MATT RICHARDSON: Because of the vulnerability and the medical fragility of some of those residents, we do anticipate there may be more positives.

CONNELLY: Emilie Sherrod's a retired nurse. And she says illness can be incredibly distressing for people with severe intellectual disabilities. Just the test for COVID-19, the nose swab by a stranger in a facemask, can be terrifying. And hospitalization...

SHERROD: I think you spend the life span praying that they'll never have to be in the hospital. I know I do.

CONNELLY: Sherrod's also concerned about staffing. Ty and Tate require several full-time staff members to take care of them. What happens if their caretakers have to stay home?

SHERROD: You can't just pull Johnny Q. Public in off the street, and they'll know my son's service plan or any other individual. I mean, they're all very specialized because they're all different in their own way.

CONNELLY: More than anything, Sherrod says she just wishes the family could visit, like they do pretty much every other weekend - drive around town in dad's pickup truck, eat frozen yogurt together.

SHERROD: You know, as a mom, I'd like to get my hands on them and give them a hug and a squeeze. But that's not happening right now. So...

CONNELLY: So Sherrod and her husband talk with their sons' social worker every day. And they're praying that their boys and everyone else at the center somehow ends up safe and healthy.

For NPR News, I'm Christopher Connelly in Fort Worth.

(SOUNDBITE OF WHALE FALL'S "THE SONDERSONG") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.