Public health officials reported Thursday a COVID-19 outbreak of 11 employees working at a long-term Victoria health care center.

The employees at Post Acute Medical Specialty Hospital of Victoria North, 102 Medical Drive, have been confirmed to have COVID-19, public health officials said at a daily news conference.

Although some of those employees are “doing very well,” at least one is critically ill, officials said.

It is the first outbreak at one place to be discovered in Victoria County.

“We are watching this situation very closely,” said Dr. John McNeill, Victoria County’s public health authority.

At that news conference, officials also announced the discovery of seven people confirmed to have the new coronavirus, bringing Victoria County’s total number of COVID-19 cases to 27. As of Thursday, at least 463 COVID-19 tests had been completed, and 25 tests are awaiting results.

Four of those 27 people have recovered from the disease.

Details about the seven people newly found to be infected were not available Thursday, said David Gonzales, the director of the Victoria County Public Health Department.

A post-acute care center is one that offers long-term rehabilitation and care for people who receive hospital treatment for a severe injury or illness, McNeill said.

“A lot of these patients do have comorbidities, so it is something we are taking very seriously,” he said. “At this point, thank God, we have no confirmed patient cases.”

The elderly and those with comorbidities are most at risk to COVID-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“These are patients basically who were taken from the hospital and treated there at the facility,” McNeill said. “They are usually there for … anywhere from five to 26 days. They are there for continued care that they would have received in the hospital.”

As a result of the outbreak’s discovery, public health officials have issued orders to suspend some services, including “wound care intake, evaluation and treatment (and) hyperbaric oxygen therapy.”

Also suspended are the admission and transfer of patients, except for emergencies and outpatient services.

Investigators with the county’s epidemiological team only recently identified the post-acute care facility as an outbreak, Gonzales said. Most of the 11 employees identified as being connected with outbreak had been previously reported by the county, he said.

Anyone found to have had close contact to the patients will be contacted directly by health department staff.

“Yesterday, the investigation was ongoing and that’s when the links were being made,” he said.

And that team is continuing its contact tracing investigation, which will attempt to identify how the outbreak happened, how long people may have been exposed there and any additional people who may have been exposed among other details, Gonzales said.

That team includes seven members and is lead by Brittany Burgess, who serves as the county’s epidemiologist.

That team could be expanded if necessary, said Gonzales, who described the risk of exposure at the facility as high.

So far, public health officials have found no indication that the post-acute care facility failed to follow proper preventative procedures, McNeill said.

“As far as we can see, personnel out there have been performing well. They have had their personal protective equipment on,” McNeill said. “Unfortunately, this does happen in health-care facilities because that’s where sick people go.”

Despite that ongoing investigation, McNeill said, it’s possible public health officials might never find out how the outbreak happened.

“I’m not sure that we will. I think we will have some pretty good ideas when it’s all said and done, but the most important thing … is identifying everyone we can who is sick and isolating them and getting them away from other people,” McNeill said.

Public health officials also will test “every person in that facility,” including all staff and patients, McNeill said, adding it was possible that additional infected people would be found.

“The more things you look for, the more things you find,” McNeill said.

Citizens Medical Center officials also are conducting COVID-19 tests for staff who may have been exposed while working at the facility, said Jennifer McDaniel, spokeswoman for the hospital.

Thursday, 12 staff members were tested, she said.

“Citizens is adequately staffed to provide health-care services to our community even if a significant number of providers should require isolation or treatment for COVID-19 themselves,” McDaniel said. “As part of the governor’s executive order and measures already in place at Citizens, our providers have postponed their elective procedures and rescheduled many clinic visits deemed non-urgent.”

Patients at the post-acute care facility will remain there to prevent potentially infecting additional people at other medical facilities, McNeill said.

Instead, those patients will be isolated and monitored if they are confirmed to have COVID-19, he said.

Post Acute Medical, a for-profit company based in Pennsylvania, currently operates four hospitals in Victoria.

Its locations are PAM Specialty Hospital of Victoria North, 102 Medical Drive; PAM Specialty Hospital of Victoria South, inside DeTar Hospital Navarro, 506 E. San Antonio St.; PAM Rehabilitation Hospital of Victoria, 101 James Coleman Drive; and Post Acute Medical Specialty Hospital of Victoria South East, inside Citizens Medical Center.

In a news release issued Thursday, representatives for PAM Specialty Hospital of Victoria North said that, to their knowledge, no employees who were confirmed to have COVID-19 had shown symptoms while working.

“We are working hand in hand with the Victoria County Health Department,” according to that news release.

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Jon Wilcox reports on courts for the Victoria Advocate. He may be reached or 361-580-6515.

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Jon covers crime, public safety and the courts at the Victoria Advocate. Born in Huntsville, Ala., he grew up in Atlanta, Ga. and obtained a bachelor's degree in journalism at Texas State University.

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