Nursing homes, assisted living facilities add new restrictions to curb COVID-19. Will they be enough?

Nursing homes, assisted living facilities add new restrictions to curb COVID-19. Will they be enough?
(Source: NBC12)

By March 12, Westminster Canterbury Richmond — a nearly 900-resident senior living facility near the city’s picturesque Bellevue neighborhood — was on lockdown.

That day, staff got the news that a resident in neighboring Hanover County had tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by a new strain of coronavirus. The proximity of the case activated the emergency response plan at Westminster Canterbury, which offers independent and assisted living as well as a nursing facility, said CEO John Burns.

“We closed our manned gates and kept two tented entrances where people could be screened,” Burns added. From that day onward, visitors were restricted. Patients and staff members had their temperatures taken before they stepped onto the property. They were asked a series of questions, too — had they traveled, did they have contact with people who had? Did they have any symptoms of the disease?

“Our criteria was, if it’s in the vicinity, we’re shutting down,” Burns said. “We knew this thing was coming.”

The strict new measures still didn’t prevent COVID-19 from getting in. The week before, a male resident and his wife returned to their independent living apartment from their home in Florida. On Friday, March 6, the man fell in his apartment and was admitted to the nursing facility. Burns said nobody there suspected COVID-19 — he didn’t have a fever or shortness of breath. But his mental state was declining, so he was admitted to VCU Medical Center for further treatment.

“I guess because of the circumstances and his travel history, they decided to test him there,” Burns said. “And he tested positive.” Burns learned about the result at 9 p.m. and worked overnight to make sure residents — and staff — were prepared for what came next.

Burns credited the facility’s detailed preparations — and intensive efforts to contain the disease once a positive case was confirmed — with preventing the spread. Staff dropped notes at the entrance of every apartment, informing residents they couldn’t leave their units. The facility screened a 9 a.m. television briefing to spread the news about the case. And staff worked with the Richmond City Health District to identify every known contact of the couple since their return from Florida.

Burns said those included approximately 288 other residents — and a few staff members — who attended the same Capitol Steps performance at Westminster Canterbury’s performance arts center.

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