Long term facility begins weekly tests as data shows surge in COVID-19 cases

By Debbie Hall

The Virginia Department of Health’s (VDH’s) Daily Dashboard showed a surge in the number of positive COVID-19 cases in Patrick County.

According to the data, there were 57 cases on July 18. By Monday, July 27, that number had spiked to 99 cases, with 15 hospitalized and three deaths.

Nancy Bell, public information officer for the West Piedmont Health District, said late last week that the surge is “directly related” to testing at a long-term care facility.

She declined to identify the facility.

Anthony Brunicardi, administrator of the Blue Ridge Therapy Connection, on July 22 said that the National Guard had assisted with tests of residents and staff in the facility – something that had been scheduled before “our first hospital transfer.”

Only one resident tested positive, he said, and added that was on July 17. The resident was not in the facility at the time, and has not returned to the facility, according to Brunicardi.

The “facility had otherwise been COVID free,” he added. “All prior testing had revealed only negative results. That said, our responsibility, like the responsibility of those in our greater community, is to aggressively test as COVID-19 often shows no signs or symptoms of illness.”

Stephanie Shelton, Regional Director for Business Development, said the National Guard routinely conducts the first round of testing in nursing facilities around the state.

She did not have updated numbers of positive cases due to a lag in getting test results.

When results are received, the facility contacts the family member specified by individual residents, Shelton said, and explained that due to the Health Insurance Portability and

Accountability Act (HIPPA), family members not listed as a contact are not notified.

The VDH also receives the updated numbers, she added.

In accordance with guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, weekly tests of residents and staff now will be conducted, Shelton said. Medical staff in the facility will conduct those tests, she added.

Brunicardi said the testing “will help us identify if there are any asymptomatic COVID-19 positive residents or staff members.”

COVID-19 cases have been reported in many long-term facilities throughout Virginia, according to Shelton.

“We’ve slowly watched it creep across the state. This is our community. This is where we live, and we implemented policies early on to try and keep people safe,” she said of closing the facility to visitors, requiring temperature checks at all entrances and educating and providing personal protective equipment (PPE) to residents and staff.

The facility also is ordering mini bottles of hand sanitizer and offers them free to customers in some local pharmacies, Shelton said, adding that is in hopes of reaching and helping to protect older adults and the elderly – which are among the most vulnerable.

Preventative and precautionary efforts initially implemented are ongoing, Shelton said. “The only thing that has changed is now we will be doing weekly testing until we receive all negative results.”

She estimated there are 195 residents receiving care at the combined facilities in Stuart and more than 200 employees.

“Our nursing staff has done a wonderful job,” as have all staff members, she said.


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