Officials at a Rockville retirement community that was visited by a Marylander who tested positive for the new coronavirus say none of its residents have been diagnosed with the illness and none are exhibiting symptoms.
The Village at Rockville also reported in a statement Saturday that Maryland Department of Health officials have told them the risk of potential exposure associated with that individual’s visit on Friday, Feb. 28, between noon and 6 p.m. remains low.
“However, taking the best practice in precaution, The Village at Rockville is working closely with the MDH to follow their recommended procedures for monitoring conditions of residents and team members who attended the event through March 14, 2020,” the statement read.
“Our primary focus is to maintain our highest level of well-being for our residents and team members,” said Kyle Hrebren, executive director at the facility, which is part of the National Lutheran Communities and Services, a Rockville-based nonprofit ministry of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America. “We will remain diligent in taking the necessary precautions to ensure the health and safety of our community and the greater Rockville community.”
Out of what the statement called “an abundance of caution,” The Village at Rockville has postponed all gatherings and public events until March 14. Additionally, visiting hours will be restricted.
The daughter of one resident said she was skeptical that those efforts are enough.
Peggy Weldon of Rockville said she visits an 89-year-old relative at the facility every day when she can.
The relative, a Korean War veteran with chronic illnesses, has been telling Weldon not to overreact, but she said she has been “alarmed” to note that management has failed to provide nurses, attendants or residents with masks and that the cleaning schedule in the building has not changed.
She added that the facility has not contacted residents’ families about the situation, and that the screening management is providing consists merely of asking visitors whether they’ve traveled to an affected country such as Korea and taking their temperature.
“They’re still asking you to sign in with the same old dirty pens,” said Weldon, who was highly complimentary of staff if not management.
Allison Combs, a spokeswoman for National Lutheran Communities, said the company has been consulting closely with both the Maryland Department of Health and the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services since before the revelations about the visitor, and both have recommended that its communities in Maryland and Virginia stick with current protocols until and unless someone shows symptoms.
Weldon was visiting her relative with her 12-year-old daughter Friday when Gov. Larry Hogan held a news conference about the three Montgomery County residents who have tested positive for the virus.
When Hogan appeared on a facility TV and mentioned The Village at Rockville, it was the first Weldon had heard of the connection.
“I was shocked,” she said. “I went straight out into the halls and talked to the nurses. They hadn’t heard anything about it either. I said, ‘you need to have gloves and masks on.’”
Weldon said she was not present the day the woman who later tested positive for coronavirus came to The Village at Rockville to “sit shiva” — take part in a traditional Jewish mourning ceremony — for a resident who had recently died. The visitor did not know she had contracted the virus.
When Weldon found out what had happened, she says, she donned gloves and cleaned her relative’s room “from top to bottom," wiping down “the doorknobs, the buzzers, the bedrails, his wheelchair” with a disinfectant. She has repeated the routine several times daily.
She said Hrebren has told her the facility’s usual pattern of cleaning once a day is enough and that management still has not provided staff with gloves or masks.
Combs said they stood ready to do so if health authorities advised it.
In the meantime, she added, residents are given twice-daily health screenings, and every visitor is screened in accord with current state health department guidelines.
Guests are asked whether they have traveled to any of the four countries with the highest reported rates of coronavirus — China, South Korea, Italy and Iran — or anywhere else outside the United States and whether they’ve experienced symptoms associated with COVID-19 such as coughing or difficulty breathing.
If any answer yes, Combs said, they are directed to consult their health-care providers.
The three people who tested positive this week for the coronavirus that causes the COVID-19 disease were on an Egyptian cruise on the Nile River, as Hogan reported during his Friday evening news conference about the residents, the first confirmed cases in Maryland.
The three — a couple in their 70s and an unrelated woman in her 50s — are currently isolated in their homes and their symptoms are abating, officials say.
Five of their family members have been advised to be tested and officials continue to trace their contacts with others to determine if more people should also be tested, Fran Phillips, deputy state health secretary for public health, said during the news conference.
Health officials say 70 to 100 residents, visitors and staff at the event might be at risk for contracting the coronavirus. They are urging them to monitor for symptoms, such as fever, cough or difficulty breathing, until March 13. They have also been told to take their temperature twice a day and notify their health care provider if it’s greater than 100.4 degrees or if they have other symptoms.
Hogan announced the three positive tests Thursday evening and then declared a state of emergency, allowing Maryland to mobilize its emergency operations center and ramp up its coordination with local and federal agencies.
The respiratory disease has sickened more than 100,000 across the globe and killed more than 3,300. As of Saturday, a total of 44 Marylanders have been tested, with 41 negative.
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The state stopped listing the number of pending tests online Saturday. Eight of the 44 were pending as of Friday evening.
As the Rockville event also included guests from the greater community, the MDH has requested that those guests contact their health care provider or the Maryland Emergency Agency Call Center at 410-517-3720. These individuals will also continue to be monitored for symptoms through March 14.
But Hrebren said they won’t necessarily need to isolate themselves.
“The MDH has confirmed that those who attended the event do not need to be self-quarantined unless symptoms of a fever, cough or a respiratory illness occur,” Hrebren said. “Additionally, the MDH has also confirmed that those who did not attend the event do not need to self-monitor.”
According to the statement, Karen Sroka, director of clinical services for the ministry, The Village at Rockville had been educating residents and staff members about coronavirus weekly and following recommendations from both the Centers for Disease Control and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services before the reported visit.
Weldon, a teacher, remains doubtful the efforts are enough. But she says her relative, a man who generally keeps to himself, continues to preach calm and has even joked about the situation.
“You know what he told me? ‘Now you know why I never go to Bingo.’ He deserves better, but he’s a trooper,” she said.