Two employees of the Motion Picture Television Fund senior home died of COVID-19 last month, shortly before vaccines were made available to staff and residents.
Max Alvarado, 42, and Francisco Castaneda, 54, were both longtime employees of the facility, according to remembrances posted on the MPTF Facebook page.
Over the course of the pandemic, 119 staffers have been infected, but Alvarado and Castaneda were the first employees to die of it. They were each infected in December, and their deaths came just as the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines were being distributed to the home.
About 95% of the residents have now been vaccinated, along with about 88-90% of the staff, said Bob Beitcher, the president and CEO of the MPTF home. Everyone who wants one has received it, he said, adding that some staff were initially hesitant. The facility conducted an outreach campaign to try to persuade staffers to get the vaccine.
“When you have two staff members who are well known on the campus die from it, that turned quite a few minds,” Beitcher said.
Staffers are wearing buttons that state: “I Got My Vax for Max.”
Alvarado was a nurse, and had worked at the facility for 19 years. Castaneda was a supply chain coordinator, and had been there for 31 years. Both were in good health before becoming infected, Beitcher said.
He said the deaths had underscored the risks the staff has taken throughout the pandemic to keep the facility running. Some volunteered to work in isolation areas with COVID-positive residents.
“They’re just everyday heroes,” he said. “I feel so proud of them and blessed to have an experience where you get to see this in people.”
The deaths came in a wave of infections that followed the Thanksgiving holiday. The facility also lost three residents to COVID in the same period, bringing the total death toll among residents to nine.
Though nearly everyone on campus has been vaccinated, the facility is still strictly limiting social interaction. There have been no visits from family or friends since mid-November, and residents still do not have access to the pool or shared dining areas. People are still wearing masks and staying physically distant.
The facility is awaiting regulatory approval to loosen some of the rules.
“Everyone feels great about getting the vaccine,” Beitcher said. “But I get emails and calls every day that say, ‘OK now what? What’s the payoff?’ … We’re hoping sooner rather than later we’ll have positive answers for them.”