Two more outbreaks of COVID-19 have infected another 12 people at Fredericksburg-area long-term care facilities.

The Rappahannock Area Health District reported the two incidents on Friday, but did not name the facilities, per state policy. Three workers and six residents in one facility and three staff members in another tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

The outbreaks were discovered after district officials, with the help of the National Guard and other area health care workers, tested every person in the buildings. The task force assembled by the local health district has made it a priority to offer the testing—known as point prevalence surveys—to the area’s 21 long-term care facilities, said Allison Balmes–John, district spokesperson. To date, six nursing homes have been tested.

“As with our other public health efforts to ‘box in’ the virus, testing is an important step to slow the spread of disease,” said Dr. Donald Stern, acting director of the local health district. “In long-term care settings, testing allows us to identify individuals who have the virus and keep them isolated from those who do not have the virus.”

For the first two months of the pandemic, area nursing homes were spared the horrible carnage experienced in other states and nations. About one-third of all deaths nationwide have happened in long-term care facilities—and experts worry the tally is even higher because all states may not have reported the data on facility deaths. In Virginia, almost six of every 10 deaths caused by COVID-19 have happened in long-term care facilities.

The Rappahannock Area Health District was one of few health districts in Virginia to have no outbreaks in senior-care facilities until early May, when 10 staff members and residents at Heritage Hall Nursing Home in King George County became infected.

Then this week, virus-related cases turned into deaths. Carriage Hill Health & Rehab Center in Spotsylvania County reported that six residents died from the virus, part of an outbreak that includes 55 patients and 26 staff members.

The local health district worked with Carriage Hill and the National Guard to test all residents and workers last week, Balmes–John said. In addition, staff members at Mary Washington Hospital and Spotsylvania Regional Medical Center have provided guidance and support to Carriage Hill to “slow the spread of the disease and preserve life,” Stern said.

The medical facilities haven’t assigned staff to Carriage Hill, Stern said, but have set up telemedicine capability and advised staff members about treatment and when hospitalization is needed. The special task force, headed by Dr. Steve Mandell at MWHC, also holds a periodic conference call with Carriage Hill team members and Spotsylvania Regional.

Jennifer Eddy, spokesperson for Carriage Hill, appreciated the help.

“This is a sad time for our entire team, but we are incredibly grateful for the many members of our community, including many other health care providers in the region that have reached out to offer their support and well-wishes during this difficult time,” she wrote in an email.

As of Friday, the Virginia Department of Health’s website did not include all the deaths from Carriage Hill, but it showed 24 fatalities for the local health district. Twenty-one were confirmed cases and three were listed as probable deaths from the virus.

The total included 17 men and seven women. Fifteen of the people who died were age 70 and over. The deaths represented 1.2 percent of the total cases in the district, which includes Fredericksburg and the counties of Caroline, King George, Spotsylvania and Stafford.

Cathy Dyson: 540/374-5425

cdyson@freelancestar.com

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