The number of foster youth infected with the coronavirus at a locked psychiatric facility in Southern California has grown from two to five as of Thursday, according to the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.
The number of staff infected at the Torrance, Calif.-based Star View Adolescent Center has also grown, from 13 to 22, county records show.
All staff and residents at Star View were tested this week at the request of the Department of Public Health, according to Star View senior administrator Natalie Spiteri-Soper. She also said that the youth testing positive are all in foster care, but not all from LA County. All five youth are asymptomatic and being isolated on-site.
As The Imprint reported last week, two teens under the supervision of the Department of Children and Family Services who had been placed at Star View for psychiatric treatment tested positive for COVID-19, according to Kent Dunlap, president and CEO of Star Behavioral Health Group. He described the patients as experiencing mild symptoms and said they were being isolated in a room separate from other residents.
The 13 staff members who tested positive – which included nurses, youth counselors, and primary therapists – had been sent home to self-quarantine, Dunlap said last week.
But last weekend, some of the formerly quarantined staff returned to work, and more were anticipated to return throughout this past week, Star View administrator Spiteri-Soper told The Imprint on Monday.
Agency officials have said infections at the Torrance facility – one of 42 managed by Star Behavioral Health Group – began on April 3. To prevent further infections, staff members have been required to wear surgical masks at all times and have been screened for fever upon entering the facility for each shift, Dunlap said. In accordance with county “safer at home” orders, all outings and home visits have been canceled, and no residents are allowed to leave the facility. In-person family visitation has also been halted to minimize the number of people entering the campus.
Star View, one of two locked psychiatric facilities for youth in California, provides mental health treatment to youth ages 12 to 18 who are considered seriously emotionally disturbed. Most, but not all, residents are under the supervision of the foster care or probation systems.
As of Thursday night, there were 18,517 confirmed coronavirus cases in Los Angeles County and 848 deaths, according to the Department of Public Health. Statewide, there are now 39,254 cases and 1,562 deaths.
The spread of the highly contagious virus is of particular concern in group care settings, where residents and staff are in close quarters, making social distancing a challenge. On Friday, the Los Angeles Times reported that the National Guard has been sent to L.A.-area nursing homes in an effort to slow the deadly spread of coronavirus in institutional settings, which account for a staggering 40 percent of all deaths from COVID-19 in the county.
Earlier this week, when the first cases at Star View were publicly reported, Sharon Balmer Cartagena, directing attorney of the Children’s Rights Project at the pro-bono law firm Public Counsel, warned of a growing danger to young people in group facilities, noting: “It’s the first in what could be many such outbreaks.”
Sara Tiano can be reached at [email protected].
*This article was updated on Friday night with comment from Natalie Spiteri-Soper of the Star View Adolescent Center.