Six Dead in SF Laguna Honda Pre-Vaccine Outbreak

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Six people have died – including three in the first week in January – in a post-holiday COVID-19 outbreak at Laguna Honda hospital in San Francisco, which had been spared from any deaths during two earlier waves of the deadly virus. 

Since the onset of the pandemic, San Francisco health officials had feared the worst for Laguna Honda – which cares for more than 700 at-risk residents and is the largest skilled nursing facility in the U.S.  But despite those early scares, the facility has been largely spared the worst, according to Dr. John Balmes, a UCSF pulmonologist.

“They were considered a model for controlling the coronavirus in long term care facilities, because they are a big one, and they hadn’t any big outbreak,” Balmes said. 

But since December, six residents have died in an outbreak in the memory care wing of the facility, officials say.

“It was a little sad because they were just about ready to start vaccinating patients,” Balmes said, but stressed the outbreak there could have been far worse. “Given the size of the facility, it’s still looking good compared to the national statistics about long term care facilities.”

But that’s not much comfort to the staff, says Nawzaneen Talai, chief of quality for Laguna Honda.

“You have gone, essentially, nine months without a single death and when every single resident and staff person who has been infected has recovered -- it hits really hard,” she said. “It really hurts the staff, because they start to question if they did something wrong -- and that’s just not the case.”

Talai said the staff has rigorously followed safety and infectious disease prevention protocols throughout the pandemic and she credits safe practices for limiting the spread in the latest outbreak. Now, she says, new cases are dropping as staff and residents are being vaccinated. 

“We’re not out of the incredible surge that we’ve had,’’ she said, “but we’re starting to see the light.” 

As a precaution, residents are no longer allowed visitors. While most of the staff have already gotten their final doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, residents will start getting their final shots next week. Talai says the six residents who died became infected days to weeks before the vaccine was available. 

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