With more than half of his state’s Covid-19 outbreaks occurring in long term care facilities, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam announced Friday the creation of a task force aimed at fighting the virus where it’s attacking one of the commonwealth’s most vulnerable populations.
On Monday, the Virginia Department of Health reported 16 of the 56 long term care outbreaks have occurred in the Fairfax Health District alone and, now, the News-Press has learned at least two City of Falls Church senior homes are battling the coronavirus, with one reporting as many as eight positive cases.
Both The Kensington and Sunrise of Falls Church have confirmed to the News-Press their facilities have been impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic. The two elderly care homes are located in the Fairfax Health District which contains the City of F.C., City of Fairfax, Fairfax County and its towns.
In an email acquired by the News-Press, Amy Feather, executive director of the Kensington’s Falls Church facility, told families last Friday that seven of its residents have tested positive for the virus, with four in recovery — or 14 days past the onset of symptoms — and three in the hospital.
In a separate email on March 25, Feather reported there was “one other team member whose test came back positive” and three other staff members experiencing symptoms were self-isolating.
Sunrise of Falls Church did not confirm the number of coronavirus cases at its facility but Tom Kessler, regional vice president of operations, told the News-Press in a statement that immediately upon learning of a case, they contact all residents and families by phone and follow up with a letter of confirmation.
Since two Kensington residents were reported testing positive for Covid-19 last month, no further information had been released to the public about other occurrences there, with the last public update coming on March 22. In response to several News-Press inquiries, a Kensington spokesperson said “we are confirming our status directly to our residents and family members.”
A concerned family member with a parent at the Falls Church senior care center, who shared Feather’s emails with the News-Press, said they were becoming frustrated with the lack of information coming from the facility since the first positive tests were reported more than three weeks ago.
The family member said after the initial cases were announced, staff from The Kensington were very communicative and were keeping residents and families informed on a daily basis but as time moved on, the updates became less and less frequent and information dwindled.
Now, updates on new positive cases at the senior care home are only being given to the residents and families involved.
“I understand the difficulty in not knowing the specifics of how our situation is evolving but I am protecting the privacy of all our residents,” Feather wrote to families in an email on March 26.
A statement from The Kensington to the News-Press Monday confirmed the policy.
The resident’s family member told the News-Press they understand the privacy concerns but they aren’t interested in knowing the identity of potential positive residents, they just want to know when and where in the facility new cases arise.
“Family members need to know the risk to their loved ones,” the person, who asked to remain anonymous, told the News-Press.
In a statement, a spokesperson said “all family members who have relatives at the Kensington are kept up to date and if they have questions [they] can call us.”
As of last month, there were 108 residents and 181 staff members at The Kensington, according to the spokesperson.
Coronavirus cases in senior living and long term facilities are at risk of severe outcomes because their populations are often the most vulnerable to the virus due to older age and possible underlying health conditions, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Additionally, the risk of the spread is so great because of the communal living structure of the facilities and the relative ease in transmissibility of the virus.
One of the first outbreaks in the United States was at a Washington state nursing facility where at least 35 people died from the coronavirus and on Saturday, the New York Times reported that nearly 2,000 nursing home residents in the New York region have died in the outbreak.
The Associated Press said Monday more than 3,300 deaths in nursing homes and long term care facilities nationwide have been linked to the coronavirus, however experts say that total is likely much higher since most states and localities don’t provide the details of long term care provider deaths.
Citing privacy concerns, the Fairfax County Health Department declined to release any information on the 16 facility outbreaks in its district reported by the Virginia Department of Health on Monday. Instead, the health department told the News-Press it has asked facilities to release their own information independently.
Last Thursday, the News-Press received an obituary from a woman that reported the Covid-19-linked death of her mother at The Kensington on March 6. However, The Kensington disputes the report, telling the News-Press “out of respect for the privacy for [the resident] and her family we will not discuss any details of her condition, other than to confirm that she was not tested for Covid-19.”
In Virginia, the novel virus has infected 148 residents and staff and killed 40 at Henrico County’s Canterbury Rehabilitation and Healthcare Center near Richmond, “one of the largest concentrations of deaths in a long term care facility in our country,” Northam said Friday. In response, the governor announced the creation of a task force aimed at fighting outbreaks of Covid-19 in nursing homes.
“These are our parents and grandparents. We have a special obligation to protect them, in addition to our responsibility to protect public health,” Northam said.
More than half, 56 of 102, of the outbreaks in Virginia have been at long term care facilities, the VDH reported Tuesday. Dr. Laura Forlano, the department’s deputy commissioner for public health who is leading the new task force, said social distancing is “pretty difficult to achieve in a congregate care living situation or facility.”
As of Tuesday morning, 628 cases of the coronavirus have been reported in the state’s long term facilities and Forlano says staffing continues to be an issue in outbreaks.
On Monday, she reported a new outbreak at a Virginia facility over the weekend. While she wouldn’t identify the location, Forlano said the task force provided extra testing resources and personal protective equipment and was able to mobilize some nursing staff to help supplement the staffing in the facility.
“The task force, in general, will continue to work on higher level policy issues and strategies to ensure that we can sustain that kind of response in the future,” she said.
Out of five Falls Church area elder care homes, two, Goodwin House in Bailey’s Crossroads and Powhatan Nursing Home, reported they had no confirmed cases of Covid-19 in response to inquiries from the News-Press.
Goodwin House Bailey’s Crossroads Executive Director Justin Carwile told the News-Press that the new task force is a step in the right direction.
“We are grateful that the governor and his teams are paying closer attention to the needs of older adults and senior living communities during the Covid-19 pandemic,” Carwile said in a statement.
News-Press requests for information on the status of a potential coronavirus outbreak at the Falls Church area’s Chesterbrook Residences senior living facility have so far gone unanswered.