The Pawnee County Community Service Center and workshop in Cleveland, Okla. CLIFTON ADCOCK/The Frontier.

CLEVELAND, Okla. — Residents in three Pawnee County group homes for adults with developmental disabilities have been quarantined since last week, following the COVID-19-related death of a man who did work at the homes through a sheltered workshop program there.

Four of six residents at one of the Faith Homes of Cleveland Opportunity Center group homes have since tested positive for the disease and are in the hospital, according to two sources who spoke to The Frontier on the condition of anonymity.

Murrel Warner Petitt, 58, of Cleveland, died on Saturday, March 21, at St. Francis Hospital in Tulsa after testing positive for the disease. Petitt was the second person to die from COVID-19 in Oklahoma. At the time, there were only 67 confirmed cases of the virus in the state.

Petitt was a client of the Pawnee County Community Service Center’s sheltered workshop, which provides work and employment for people with disabilities, and part of his regular duties included some light janitorial work at each of the three Faith Homes group homes, according to the sources who spoke with The Frontier.

It is unclear how Petitt and the group home residents who have since tested positive for COVID-19 contracted the disease, but following Petitt’s positive test, all three group homes, which house six people each, were quarantined, sources said.

Pawnee County Community Service Center CEO Tim Muniz said he could not comment on the situation or whether the houses were quarantined because of privacy requirements, other than a short statement that was issued shortly after Petitt’s death.

“It is with complete sadness that I announce the passing of one of our clients,” the statement read. “Our condolences go out to family and friends in this difficult time. This client did test positive with COVID19 virus. We are working with the CDC and the Oklahoma State Department of Health to try to insure the safety and well-being of those we serve and of the community where we live. We are working hand in hand with The City of Cleveland and with Mayor Rusher to get information out to everyone and still stay within the privacy guidelines.”

One of the people who spoke to The Frontier on background has an adult child who lives in one of the group homes affected by the quarantine, and said that many of the people who live in the homes are considered medically fragile because of existing health conditions.

“All three houses are quarantined because (people at) all three houses have been exposed at the workshop and at the homes,” the source told The Frontier

Limited staff members are working at the group homes in 12-hour shifts, the source said.

“The staff there are very concerned, and are doing everything they can.” 

The Oklahoma Department of Human Services Developmental Disabilities Service Division, the state agency that regulates group homes and sheltered workshops for people with developmental disabilities, issued some guidance on preventing the spread of the disease to providers on March 17 in the form of a letter, and held a conference call with providers on the 20th.

On Tuesday, DDSD issued a letter to providers telling them to follow an executive order issued by Gov. Kevin Stitt limiting group size to less than 10 people, maintain social distancing, and authorizing restrictions on visitation, among other precautions to prevent the spread of the disease.

“OKDHS is devastated by the loss of the gentleman who received services from the Cleveland Area Employment, Training & Community Service Center, and we are working with the Center to offer our support in this difficult time,” said Casey L. White, communications administrator for DHS. “We have continued to remain in close contact with our providers and customers throughout this situation to offer guidance or resources. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 virus is highly contagious. In order to be responsive as our knowledge of the situation evolves, we have advised all providers to follow the guidelines set forth by the CDC and Oklahoma State Department of Health to ensure the safety of their customers.”

Muniz said the Community Service Center has received guidance on limiting the spread from multiple sources and is working with both state and federal health officials. DDSD is also holding weekly meetings with providers, he said.

Muniz also said the organization is trying to provide families with as much information as possible, given privacy restrictions in place.

“In these situations what I’m learning is that no matter how much communication you have with people, when people are scared, being scared leads to frustration which leads to anger,” Muniz said. “When we fear things it turns to anger really quickly. We’ve had some parents who were upset, but they were all understanding once we walked them through.”

Frontier Staff Writer Kassie McClung contributed to this story.

Further Reading: 

Coronavirus has been confirmed in care facilities, officials won't say where