Following state officials, Carroll County on Wednesday detailed infections and deaths caused by the coronavirus among six long-term care facilities, where there have now been 289 confirmed cases and at least 52 deaths.
Maryland officials, after denying repeated press inquiries, released data specific to long-term care facilities April 29, and Carroll County officials followed suit that evening.
The hardest-hit facility, according to the county data, is Pleasant View Nursing Home in Mount Airy, which has had 125 cases and 29 deaths from COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. Statewide, that death toll is second only to Southern Maryland’s SagePoint Nursing and Rehabilitation, where 33 people have died.
Carroll Lutheran Village in Westminster has the next most deaths, with eight, and 49 confirmed cases, according to the county data, followed by Westminster Healthcare Center with 62 cases and six deaths; Fairhaven, a retirement community in Sykesville, with 26 cases and five deaths; Sun Valley Assisted Living with 23 cases and four deaths; and Springfield Hospital Center in Eldersburg with four cases and no deaths.
On Wednesday evening, Maryland began listing data for staffers of long-term care facilities as well. According to those figures, one staffer at Pleasant View has died and 41 others have tested positive. At Carroll Lutheran Village, 11 staffers have tested positive, along with seven at Sun Valley, six at Westminster Healthcare Center, four at Fairhaven and three at Springfield.
The data from the Maryland Department of Health is a combination of residents and staff of these congregate living facilities, according to Mike Ricci, spokesperson for Gov. Larry Hogan’s office. Facilities data will be updated at least weekly, but a final decision has yet to be made, Ricci said.
Two other facilities previously confirmed to have cases were not reflected in the state or county data, though. The Lorien Taneytown nursing home confirmed April 7 that two residents there had tested positive. And in a letter dated April 9, the Lorien nursing home facility in Mount Airy reported that an employee had tested positive. A spokesperson for Lorien Health Services did not respond to requests for comment Wednesday.
The six Carroll facilities named in the data make up more than half of the cases in the county and most of the deaths. As of Wednesday, there were 431 confirmed cases and five deaths in addition to the 52 from long-term care facilities.
But state numbers differ. Maryland Department of Health reported 421 cases and 45 deaths across the county Wednesday.
Maggie Kunz, spokesperson for Carroll County Health Department, offered an explanation for the discrepancies.
“Just like with the COVID-19 case numbers, there will be some discrepancies between state and local data due to different information sources and timing,” Kunz wrote in an email. “We will be providing local facility data on our website case page, which is updated every weekday.”
Nursing homes are required to share information about COVID-19 cases and actions taken to reduce the spread with residents and their representatives, according to Kunz.
The local health department has a long-term care facility team to ensure these facilities have the resources and support they need, according to Kunz. Although there are many cases of COVID-19 among these facilities, she cautioned residents to continue following social distancing guidelines in the community as well.
New steps announced
In a Wednesday evening news release, the Carroll County Health Department announced new steps it will be taking, including increased contact tracing and capacity for local testing.
As part of those contact tracing efforts, department staff will interview residents who test positive about anyone they might have come in close contact with, then seek out those individuals.
“It is going to be challenging for people to quarantine and isolate. But until we have a treatment and a vaccine, it is the best way for us to keep flattening the curve — slowing the spread of the virus and preventing our health system from being overwhelmed,” said Ed Singer, county health officer. “Contact tracing will save lives.”
The department is working with the state to secure more tests and “other materials,” and it has trained staffers on diagnostic nasal swab tests. In addition, the department is considering the opening of a new testing site — possibly in early May — though the release did not specify where.
Loss of a mother
One of the Sun Valley residents who had COVID-19 was Richard Foley’s 96-year-old mother, Evelyn. She died at Carroll Hospital on April 10, he said.
Evelyn Foley was born in Gelsenkirchen, Germany, before moving to the United States, according to her obituary. She was a medical secretary editor with the United States government during her working years. After retiring, she attended the University of Maryland, where she earned two bachelor’s degrees.
She had 13 grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren.
In her final days, Foley’s mother was well cared for by hospital staff, he said. In one instance, a doctor held the phone to Evelyn’s ear so Foley could speak to her, he said. Another time, when Foley told hospital staff his mother might start speaking in German, he was reassured someone who knew German could assist.
Foley learned on April 6 that his mother had COVID-19. She was taken to the hospital March 27 for a medical concern not related to COVID-19, and while she was there the staff tested her for the disease.
“When I found out myself I was worried about the other residents and the staff,” Foley said in an interview.
He called Sun Valley on April 6 and found out the staff had learned of his mother’s diagnosis through the hospital that morning, and said a Sun Valley staff member was positive as well.
Foley had not heard of any cases of COVID-19 at the facility before then.
While Foley said his mother had “loving care” at Sun Valley, he was disappointed in the facility’s communication. He feels they weren’t transparent about COVID-19.
Chrissy Kanther, owner of Sun Valley, on Wednesday said families were notified of their changes to the visitor policy, prevention procedure and confirmed cases. Residents and staff were regularly screened for symptoms, she said, and those who met testing criteria were tested. Sun Valley was not aware of any COVID-19 cases in the facility prior to April 7, according to Kanther.
More testing, more confirmed cases
Westminster Healthcare Center was one of the facilities to be visited by one of Hogan’s “strike teams” to evaluate isolation procedures and advise the facility, according to corporate spokesperson Fred Stratmann.
“The state has been helpful in terms of directing us on our procedures and helping us try to find PPE (personal protective equipment),” Stratmann said Wednesday.
Westminster Healthcare Center announced its first four cases April 14. The following day, Stratmann said, they began testing every resident in the facility.
“When you test residents you’re going to get more cases,” he said.
Those with COVID-19 are continuing to be separated from those who aren’t infected in an isolation unit. Certain staff are dedicated solely to those with the disease, and a decontamination unit is used to clean supplies, according to Stratmann.
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Staffing continues to be a need, he said, as it was before the pandemic. Stratmann said they are hiring “like crazy” and getting employees from staffing agencies where needed to meet staffing requirements. He said staff have close ties to the people they care for.
“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.”
Carroll County Health Department plans to sort through the data and begin providing local daily updates on facilities starting Wednesday afternoon, Kunz said.
Anyone who thinks they or a family member might be showing coronavirus symptoms can call the Carroll County Health Department’s COVID-19 hotline, which is available 8 a.m. through 5 p.m. seven days a week at 410-876-4848, or contact their doctor. After hours, callers may leave a message or call 211. People with emergencies should continue to call 911.