An outbreak of COVID-19 turned deadly in a third long-term care facility in the Fredericksburg area and Virginia reached another somber milestone in the global pandemic: more than 100,000 people in the state have tested positive for the virus.
The deaths of two local men, one white and one Latino, both age 80-plus and residents at area assisted living facilities, were reported Sunday. The Stafford County man had lived at Harmony at Falls Run, where an outbreak, reported Wednesday, has claimed its first fatality. As of Sunday, the Virginia Department of Health did not specify the exact number of cases at Harmony Run because the total was less than five.
The other death was at Hughes Home for Adults in Fredericksburg, where three people have died among 39 confirmed cases.
The most recent deaths bring to 25 the number of elderly people who have died in area nursing homes or assisted living facilities from COVID-19. Eight of the 21 long-term care facilities in Fredericksburg and the counties of Caroline, King George, Spotsylvania and Stafford, have reported outbreaks, which have happened in every locality except Caroline.
Those who died in facilities represent 43 percent of the local health district’s total of 57 deaths.
The chance of one or two positive cases erupting into a building-wide outbreak worries Deborah Clarke–Hall, a retired educator whose 89-year-old stepfather lives at Spring Arbor of Fredericksburg in Spotsylvania. According to emails sent last week to family members, two workers at Spring Arbor have tested positive for COVID-19 and at least two residents in its assisted living section were showing symptoms.
All staff members and residents were subsequently tested late last week, according to an email from Douglas C. Buttner, regional director.
Spring Arbor is not listed on the state website as having a COVID-19 outbreak, although there often are weekend delays in reporting cases.
Clarke–Hall, who lives in Caroline County, has “watched in horror” as COVID-19 has wrought the worst outcomes, across the state, country and world, among those in long-term care facilities. In Virginia, 55 percent of the COVID-19 deaths have resulted from outbreaks in such settings.
“It is very scary,” she said on Sunday. “I try not to cry over it, I do have some moments when I sink kind of low, but I pull back out because I know I can’t function in fear.”
Plus, she has to look out for the man who’s been a father to her and four sisters for more than 50 years, as well as to his two biological children. After her mother died almost five years ago, all the children continued to look out for Clarke–Hall’s stepfather, a retired chemist who suffers from dementia.
When she was able to visit regularly, she and her siblings were pleased with the care he got and the attention paid to details, from a clean facility and attractive landscaping to staff-prepared meals in the dining room before the lockdown put everyone into quarantine.
Her stepfather isn’t always are of what’s happening, but when she explained how the COVID-19 test would be taken—that someone would gently insert a swab into his nose—his response was more than lucid.
“I sure hope they know what they’re doing,” he said.
More outbreaks at facilities have come as health officials in the Rappahannock Area Health District express concern about rising case numbers, particularly among those in their 20s and 30s. While younger people typically fare better with the respiratory illness than their older counterparts, that’s not always the case, said Dr. Christopher Newman, medical director at Mary Washington Healthcare.
And, the bigger risk is to whom they may spread the disease, especially if they have it and don’t have symptoms.
“The real concern is in a week or two, the younger people spread it to the older people and lead to a surge,” both in case numbers and hospitalizations, he said.
Newman said he believes people want to get back to the way life was before lockdowns and social distancing, especially during what are supposed to be the carefree days of summer.
“I do think people are letting down their guard because it’s been going on for so long,” he said. “But the virus hasn’t changed.”
Cathy Dyson: 540/374-5425
Concerned about COVID-19?
Sign up now to get the most recent coronavirus headlines and other important local and national news sent to your email inbox daily.