How state officials are addressing COVID-19 outbreaks at long-term care facilities

Posted at 6:07 PM, Apr 15, 2020

RICHMOND, Va. -- Long-term care facilities, like nursing homes or assisted living centers, remain a top concern for state health officials because of the vulnerable population living at them and a novel coronavirus that can spread almost without detection.

More than 60 long-term care facilities statewide, a dozen of which are in the Richmond-metro, are currently experiencing “outbreaks,” according to data provided by the Virginia Department of Health.

Health officials count an “outbreak” as any facility were at least two people have tested positive for COVID-19. While that number may seem low, experts said even one case at a nursing home is alarming.

“Most facilities, if not all of them, report to us as soon as they have one [case] because they know what is to come, and public health is mobilized very quickly,” said Dr. Laurie Forlano, VDH Deputy Commissioner for Population Health and the chair of the newly formed state task force specifically focused on long-term care facilities. “There’s a host of challenges in these settings.”

The first American outbreak of COVID-19 occurred at a nursing home in Kirkland, Washington, and Canterbury Rehabilitation and Healthcare Center in Henrico continues to battle one of the largest outbreaks in the country.

Tuesday, Beth Sholom Assisted Living Center announced 25 people have test positive for coronavirus at their Henrico facility, despite isolating the first resident to test positive immediately after their results came back.

Spring Harbor of Salisbury announced Wednesday that 17 residents have tested positive and five residents died, although leaders said it is unclear if coronavirus complications caused every death.

“The remainder of residents are currently being treated and expected to recover. It is always hard for us to lose a member of our Spring Arbor family and we continue to do everything possible to ensure the safety, security, and wellbeing of our residents,” said Richard Williams, Senior VP at Spring Harbor.

Local families with loved ones in Richmond-area long-term care facilities have contacted CBS 6 with concerns about a lack of information being provided to them.

One family, who asked they and the local facility not be mentioned, said they have received little communication about their loved one, who cannot care for themselves and is non-verbal. The gap in quality information, family members said, is highly alarming because the virus appears to “spread like wildfire” and the facility has reported positive cases among residents and staff.

Dr. Forlano said the task force plans to develop reporting and communication guidelines for Virginia facilities to follow moving forward.

“I know that is just an incredibly heartbreaking experience for families, and I fully understand they want information quickly,” Dr. Forlano said. “In these situations, I always think the more information the better because people are really struggling for information.”

Besides hosting a highly susceptible population, long-term care facilities are reporting staffing and testing issues, Dr. Forlano said when asked about what challenges the task force is seeing at Virginia facilities.

“Staffing has definitely emerged as an important issue, which we’re learning more about. So we’re coming up with some hopefully good solutions to support these facilities. I’m confident too in the testing arena that we’ll be able to support testing in these facilities because understanding were the disease is in a given facility is really important for infection control,” she said.

Access to rapid testing and proper PPE will be central points of discussion during the first full meeting of the task force scheduled for Thursday morning.

“These are people we all love, so we are in this together, and we’re committed to coming up with solutions to make these responses more comprehensive and timely,” Dr. Forlano said.

You can learn more about where state officials are tracking outbreaks here.

Depend on CBS 6 News and for the most complete coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic.

COVID-19 Precautions

Most patients with COVID-19 have mild to moderate symptoms. However, in a small proportion of patients, COVID-19 can lead to more severe illness, including death, particularly among those who are older or those who have chronic medical conditions.

COVID-19 spreads primarily through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes.

Symptoms include fever, cough, and difficulty breathing. Symptoms appear within 14 days of being exposed to an infectious person.

Virginia health officials urged the following precautions:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
  • Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer only if soap and water are not available.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when coughing or sneezing.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.Stay home when you are sick.
  • Avoid contact with sick people.Avoid non-essential travel.