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At least 6 Maryland nursing homes have 100 coronavirus cases, as data shows virus spreading through many facilities

Baltimore Sun reporter Colin Campbell answers why it's not a good idea to be quarantining only the elderly and having everyone else go back to work.

New data released by Maryland shows the coronavirus has spread throughout many of the state’s nursing homes, in some cases infecting most residents and many staffers, and killing more than 500 people.

At least six nursing homes have more than 100 cases of the COVID-19 illness caused by the virus, counting both infected patients and staffers, according to the data published online Tuesday evening by the state health department.

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Those nursing homes include FutureCare Lochearn in Baltimore, SagePoint Nursing and Rehabilitation in Southern Maryland, Pleasant View Nursing Home in Mount Airy, Genesis Health Care’s Ballenger Creek Center in Frederick, Ellicott City Healthcare Center and FutureCare Old Court in Randallstown.

The caseloads mean the virus has infected the majority of residents in many facilities. For example, there are 154 infections reported among residents at the Lochearn center, which has capacity for 200 residents. At SagePoint in Charles County’s La Plata, 97 residents have tested positive in a facility with space for 170.

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The state released new data Wednesday breaking down nursing home cases and deaths by residents and workers. It showed 508 resident deaths and eight nursing home worker deaths statewide.

The coronavirus has been deadliest in Maryland at SagePoint, where 34 residents and one employee have died, and Pleasant View, where the death toll is at least one staffer and 28 residents. Pleasant View had 95 residents at the time of the outbreak. The next highest death toll is at ManorCare Silver Spring, which has 16 resident deaths from 58 cases.

Administrators at several of the nursing homes with the largest outbreaks said those numbers reflect widespread testing that so far has been hard for most facilities to access. Many nursing homes have been unable to test residents and staff who aren’t showing symptoms associated with COVID-19, the infection the coronavirus causes — but that is set to change after Gov. Larry Hogan on Wednesday ordered universal testing for the facilities.

“When you test residents, you’re going to get more cases," said Fred Stratmann, a spokesman for CommuniCare, a company whose Baltimore-area nursing homes include Ellicott City Healthcare Center and Westminster Healthcare Center in Carroll County.

CommuniCare’s Ellicott City facility has had 118 cases and 10 resident deaths, while the Westminster site has 54 cases and two resident deaths.

The state’s nursing home administrators say they have been following a host of recommendations from state and federal health officials, including restricting visitor access since mid-March, requiring staff to wear extensive personal protective equipment, and testing staff and patients as much as they can. Some described going beyond health experts’ recommendations by separating the laundry of COVID-negative and -positive residents and making runs to Costco rather than allowing vending machine workers into their buildings.

But the data show the virus continued to spread.

“This is not the flu," said Holly O’Shea, a spokeswoman for FutureCare. That company conducted widespread testing across many of its 15 facilities around the Baltimore region, including at Lochearn, where testing revealed 170 infections two weeks ago.

Several other of the company’s facilities are hard hit, including FutureCare Chesapeake in Arnold, which has had 114 cases and 13 deaths, and FutureCare Old Court in Randallstown, which has had 109 cases and nine deaths, including one employee.

O’Shea said FutureCare has been working to adapt as more is learned about the virus’ spread. But the data show much is left to be understood.

“What is it about this virus that, notwithstanding all the interventions we have in place, it’s so easily transmitted?” she said. “What is the key to cracking this virus’ code so it is stopped?"

Officials at SagePoint said they tested all of the Charles County facility’s residents for coronavirus April 6 and got the results showing 79 cases four days later. They did not provide a timeline of when deaths now approaching three dozen occurred, however.

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“We believe we have saved lives because of what we did,” SagePoint said in a statement that also emphasized the facility received “little support” from county and state agencies.

“It is important to remember that this happened TO our facility. It is not something that WE caused,” the statement continued. “It’s something that happened TO us. And we have done our very best to manage the situation.”

Before Hogan’s announcement of expanded testing Wednesday, a group representing 14,000 nursing homes, assisted living facilities and other elderly care centers nationwide joined calls for expanded and priority testing for those communities. More test results could help nursing homes understand how many residents and staff could be carrying the virus without symptoms, but contagious and putting patients at risk, the American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living said.

The group also called for emergency funding for nursing homes to fight the pandemic, echoing concerns raised in Maryland.

“Our industry has been sounding the alarm for weeks and weeks, but we have largely been forgotten by the public health sector," said Mark Parkinson, the group’s CEO, in a statement. "If we are not made a top priority, this situation will get worse with the most vulnerable in our society being lost.”

Now that nursing home testing appears set to increase, it is raising concerns about even more difficulty maintaining staffing levels at the facilities. Any employees who test positive must be “immediately discharged into isolation,” said Hogan, adding that nursing homes must now develop “emergency surge staffing plans” to ensure patients can be cared for.

The data shows large numbers of infections among staff at many facilities, as well: 66 at FutureCare Lochearn, 43 at FutureCare Chesapeake in Arnold and 39 at Genesis’ Ballenger Creek.

Another initiative Hogan launched Wednesday could help facilities manage those shortages by sending 260 registered nurses and nursing aides to nursing homes dealing with outbreaks, through a Maryland Department of Health contract with the Allegis Group, a staffing agency, and the Maryland Hospital Association.

But if large numbers of staff test positive, it would exacerbate common staffing challenges that have only intensified during the pandemic.

“It would make it very difficult for us to meet staffing requirements if 20 percent of our workforce is an asymptomatic carrier who is unable to work,” CommuniCare’s Stratmann said.

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He said facility administrators are recruiting “like crazy," while also constantly working to rebuild supplies of protective equipment, emphasizing that they are working to protect residents as best they can. More help is always needed, he said.

“Our residents are not statistics to us," he said. "We feel the same things as the families do about watching people in our facilities come down with this.”

Baltimore Sun Media reporters Mary Grace Keller, Lillian Reed and Jean Marbella contributed to this article.

Maryland’s biggest nursing home outbreaks

FutureCare Lochearn in Baltimore, 220 cases

Sagepoint Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in La Plata, 129 cases

Pleasant View Nursing Home in Mount Airy, 124 cases

Genesis Healthcare’s Ballenger Creek Center in Frederick, 123 cases

Ellicott City Healthcare Center, 118 cases

Maryland’s deadliest nursing home outbreaks

Sagepoint Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in La Plata, 35 deaths

Pleasant View Nursing Home in Mount Airy, 29 deaths

Manor Care Silver Spring, 16 deaths

FutureCare Lochearn in Baltimore, 14 deaths

Frederick Health and Rehabilitation Center, 13 deaths

FutureCare Chesapeake in Arnold, 13 deaths

Rockville Nursing Home, 13 deaths

Source: Maryland Department of Health. Totals include both residents and staff.

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