Vaccines 'bittersweet' after 5 COVID deaths

Keota home saw 31 of 33 residents sick

Keota Health Care Center nurse Brenda Quick gets inoculated with the COVID-19 vaccine.
Keota Health Care Center nurse Brenda Quick gets inoculated with the COVID-19 vaccine.

KEOTA — For residents and staff at the Keota Health Care Center, the COVID-19 vaccine came around a month too late. The chronic care and dementia center reported a COVID-19 outbreak the day before Thanksgiving, with 31 out of 33 residents and 17 staff members testing positive. Five residents died.

Administrator David Barrientos said it was bittersweet to have the vaccine now as the center recovers from the outbreak. The center partnered with CVS to receive the Pfizer vaccine, and has vaccinated around 95 percent of its residents and is working on vaccinating staff.

Workers will return to administer a second dose and vaccinate other staff on Jan. 20, and come back a final time three weeks later.

“We were so close to the vaccine you know ... we wish it could have happened sooner, wish we could have stayed COVID free, but that’s just how it happened,” Barrientos said.

Cathi Coley, a nurse at the center, tested positive during the outbreak. Since she had minor symptoms, Coley worked with the residents who tested positive, along with Barrientos. She experienced minor symptoms, such as slight exhaustion, but it didn’t keep from her job.

She said it was hard to watch residents, who she had gotten to know over her year of working at the center, decline in health.

“I wouldn’t wish it on anybody,” she said.

When deciding whether to receive the vaccine, Coley said she thought about the long history of vaccines helping people and her fears of bringing COVID-19 back to her family, especially her daughter, who has an immune deficiency. Her wish to keep her family healthy outweighed any risks she saw in receiving the vaccine, she said.

Coley didn’t experience any pain from the vaccine site, but did have a mild fever the same day.

Deb Myers, a laundry aid at the center, was worried about the newness of the vaccine, how quickly it was created then offered to the public. In the end, it was her age that made her decide to receive the vaccine. At 64 years old, she thought it was best to get it now. She experienced no pain or other symptoms after receiving the vaccine.

“I always thought maybe I probably would want to get it, but I didn’t want to be one of the first ones,” Myers said.

Doctors were available to answer questions she had about the vaccine, Coley said, and she also utilized a video put out by the Iowa Health Care Association. Barrientos said many on staff were hesitant to get the vaccine, but documentation was available for those who had questions. The vaccine is available to all residents and staff who meet the criteria on the immunization questionnaire.

With those in and working at the center recovering from the outbreak and taking steps to prevent getting COVID-19, Coley said the atmosphere has been lighter. Things aren’t back to normal and visitations are still restricted, but it’s getting better.

“The tension is off, things are less stressful,” Myers said.