Ardmore veterans' center administrator says vaccines protecting residents

Michael D. Smith
The Daily Ardmoreite

COVID-19 is making a comeback in southern Oklahoma but the Oklahoma Veterans Center in Ardmore is faring slightly better through the most recent wave of infections. The facility has carried out relentless infection control measures for months but a devastating outbreak at the facility late last year still claimed at least a dozen lives. 

For Amy Sprouse, the facility’s administrator, one factor has proven to be effective in keeping her residents safe. 

“The only thing that’s different now from then is there’s a vaccine,” said Sprouse. 

Sprouse said well over 90% of residents at the Ardmore veterans’ center have been vaccinated against the disease and she believes that is why they are faring better now compared to the previous surge late last year, especially as public health officials now warn of the Delta variant of COVID-19 spreading in Carter County. 

“They didn’t have that protection late 2020, early 2021, and I can definitely see that it is helping this time. As our numbers go up in the community, we’re not seeing the cases at the center like we did previously and that’s reassuring,” Sprouse said on Wednesday. 

The Ardmore center recorded its first case of COVID-19 in November 2020 and counted about 10 total cases by the end of the year, according to weekly epidemiological reports from the Oklahoma State Department of Health.

More:Ardmore VA center deaths surpass county’s total death toll in two weeks

As vaccines became available to a growing number of elderly and at-risk Oklahomans through February, OSDH reported nearly 60 cases and nine deaths at the facility. The Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs reported over 100 cases and 41 deaths in Ardmore, according to a regular series of requests by The Ardmoreite through January.

The most recent weekly update from OSDH shows 64 total cases have been recorded at the Ardmore center through July 24, including 13 deaths linked to the disease. The facility has experienced a roughly 10% increase in cases since March while Carter County as a whole has recorded a 16% jump in cases of COVID-19, according to OSDH data.

To further suggest the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines for residents of the Ardmore veterans’ center, a lockdown for residents and strict visitor restrictions in place during the previous surge in COVID-19 cases were lifted shortly before Memorial Day. Even as residents resumed activities away from the facility and welcomed visitors, uncontrolled spread of the virus slowed dramatically. 

“When it was so bad, the residents couldn’t have visitors. They couldn’t go to Walmart. They were restricted to this facility and people were restricted from coming in, and thankfully it’s not that way anymore and we’re still managing it,” said Sprouse. 

The facility’s staff and residents are still expected to follow strict infection control protocols like hand washing and mask usage and all are tested for COVID-19 two times per week. Staff or residents who test positive are quarantined and contact tracing is carried out to contain potential outbreaks.

Sprouse said the testing frequency could eventually drop but local test positivity rates currently remain too high. The weekly OSDH COVID-19 Risk Level System on Tuesday had Carter County with the fifth highest risk level in the state and a seven-d average of 63 new daily cases per 100,000 people, a rate not seen locally since February.

Visitation is still allowed for family and friends of residents but is currently limited to outdoor visits except for special circumstances like compassion care. Sprouse said indoor visitor restrictions could be lifted after two weeks of no new infections at the facility. 

While the Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs does not mandate employees receive vaccines against COVID-19, Sprouse said she encourages staff, residents and members of the community to get vaccinated to help protect the area’s aging veterans. 

“I do respect the person’s choice, but I would prefer that people get vaccinated. I think it would help if we had more people vaccinated at our center, in our community and our state. I think that would definitely help us with COVID-19.”