Officials at Three Crowns Park, at 2323 McDaniel Ave. in northwest Evanston, are moving ahead with testing of residents and staff at the retirement community.

With the State now playing an active role in the situation, the Three Crowns Park retirement community has now begun testing of staff as well as patients, including those in a wing of the facility where the virus has spread.

In separate letters to residents and families April 21 and April 22, Three Crowns Executive Director Phil Hemmer reported the deaths of several residents as well as positive tests for both residents and staff in the Elsa House wing of the complex and in s McDaniel Courts independent living units, where the first cases were found.

In the April 21 letter, Mr. Hemmer reported that an Elsa House memory-care resident had died recently. “The gentleman had a pre-existing condition but was COVID asymptomatic until he developed a fever the day before he passed away. After his death, we were notified of his positive results.”

In a follow-up April 22 letter, he reported that since that letter, two other Elsa House residents who tested positive on April 19 had passed away overnight.

“Both were long-time Three Crowns residents with pre-existing conditions,” Mr. Hemmer said in his letter. “They will be greatly missed.”

Mr. Hemmer acknowledged in his April 21 and April 22 letters that Three Crowns had begun testing of residents and staff.

Three Crowns officials had put out a letter for help to a wide range of public officials last month, seeking direction on testing, staff and equipment issues, with personal protection equipment running low.

Citing Illinois Department of Public Health standards, Mayor Stephen Hagerty and City’s Health and Human Services Director Ike Ogbo said that widespread testing at Three Crowns for Covid-19 was not being advised unless an individual was symptomatic.

After meeting with Three Crowns administrators, City officials prescribed that the facility use a method called “contract tracing,” surveying to identify those who might have been potentially exposed to the residents who were initially hospitalized with the disease.

At the time, Mayor Hagerty acknowledged that the City’s approach was influenced because of the limited number of testing capacity and tests.

Mr. Ogbo said in a March 19 FaceBook Live Q&A session last month with Mayor Hagerty that officials believed that the best course was if the facility followed Centers for Disease Control guidelines on social distancing and good hygiene and spacing out those individuals thought to be symptomatic.

 In addition, he stressed the need for staff to wear protective equipment in their duties – mask, goggles, gloves and gowns in their care of individuals.

(Mr. Ogbo, who was elevated to his director role last November by Interim City Manager Erika Storlie, by has not responded to RoundTable emails or phone calls for additional details.)

Three Crowns officials reached out to a wide range of officials at different levels of government at the time.

“We want to push every avenue to get the support, testing, and supplies needed as soon as possible,” said Mr. Hemmer in a letter then.

The officials contacted included State Representative Robyn Gabel, D-18th. Early on Ms. Gable was able to get the Illinois Department of Public Health to make an onsite visit March 20 to Three Crowns and work with staff on their safety plans for their residents.

Rep. Gable has continued to work with the IDPH, which now lists Three Crowns on its watch list of where outbreaks have occurred.

On its web site, dph.Illinois.gov, IDPH officials stated that “advice on testing has continued to evolve as we learn more about Covid-19. Originally, it was important to identify a case in an LTC [Longterm Care Facility)] and then instruct management/staff to operate as if there additional cases and practice appropriate PPE use, including residents wearing masks and isolation of individuals exhibiting symptoms. With the recent expansion of testing capacity, LTC facilities with no cases have been prioritized, and IDPH is urging testing of residents and staff to determine if cases occur to allow for immediate isolation of those who test positive. In facilities where cases already exist, residents who display symptoms are to be treated as if positive, but staff are to be tested to determine who can care for residents and who should be isolated.”

Like IDPH, Ms. Gabel noted officials’ evolving understanding of the situation as experienced by facilities such as Three Crowns. “We all knew that congregate living situations would be a prime target for the spread of the virus,” she said, “and we need to address their concerns and assure that testing and PPE’s is available for them.”

In addition, she pointed to a plan IDPH and the Illinois Emergency Management Agency is working on, obtaining more staff for long-term care facilities that are very low on personnel.

The plan includes the use of volunteers, with the hope “they can cover some of these holes that we are seeing,” she said.

In his April 22 letter, Mr. Hemmer notified residents and family and friends of Three Crowns, that “we finally have been authorized to provide coronavirus testing at Three Crowns Park. Until this week, testing was extremely limited and offered only to those clearly already symptomatic or exposed. Testing is critically important to protecting our residents.

“By hiring a private lab, Three Crowns tested Independent Living residents. Thankfully, 90 of 92 of these residents tested negative. A married couple tested positive. With the support of the Illinois Department of Public Health, we are testing Three Crowns staff.” He reported in his previous letter that six staff members had tested positive, noting they were wearing protective equipment while still working.

The letter continued, “Staff who test positive will stay at home with pay until they are cleared to return,” he said. “We have offered incentives for healthy staff to continue working. In an attempt to prevent staffing shortages, we have contacted with four new staffing agencies to hire additional employees.”

Reflecting the fast-moving situation, Mr. Hemmer reported that four Elsa House memory care residents had tested positive. He reported that five residents and a staff member who previously tested positive have recovered.

“This unforgiving virus has changed so many aspects of life in two months,” he said, closing off his April 22 letter. “The news we are sharing is difficult and we appreciate your continued support.”