Richmond Times-Dispatch: UPDATED: Death toll up to 35 at Canterbury, as Va. congressional reps push federal aid to nursing facilities

RICHMOND TIMES-DISPATCH, MICHAEL MARTZ 

The number of deaths from COVID-19 has risen to 35 at Canterbury Rehabilitation & Healthcare Center, more than doubling the toll of coronavirus fatalities in less than a week at the skilled nursing facility in western Henrico County.

Dr. James Wright, medical director at the center, said Wednesday that three additional residents had died of the disease, two at the facility and one at a local hospital, the crest of a surge that began late last week and claimed 19 lives in five days.

Wright said the facility had not recorded any additional deaths in the previous 24 hours, but warned, “We still have a number of patients we’re still concerned about, so we expect additional deaths in the future.”

Canterbury is edging closer to the grim milestone for COVID-19 deaths set by the Life Care Center nursing home in Kirkland, Wash., an early coronavirus hot spot in the U.S. At least 37 people died at the nursing home in suburban Seattle.

The increase in COVID-19 cases and deaths in long-term care facilities prompted four Virginia congressional representatives — two Democrats and two Republicans — to ask the administration of President Donald Trump on Wednesday to dedicate at least $25 billion in newly approved federal stimulus money to nursing homes and assisted living facilities.

The four representatives — Abigail Spanberger, D-7th; Denver Riggleman, R-5th; Jennifer Wexton, D-10th; and Morgan Griffith, R-9th — urged Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar on Wednesday to provide financial aid that will allow long-term care facilities to hire critical staff and buy protective gear to help prevent residents and employees from being exposed to COVID-19.

“The price of inaction is alarming,” they said in the joint letter to Azar.

The Virginia representatives asked that Azar dedicate at least $15 billion to nursing homes and $10 billion to assisted living facilities from the $2.2 trillion CARES Act approved by Congress and signed by Trump on March 27.

They want the aid to go to facilities that already have confirmed COVID-19 cases, including at least six nursing homes and assisted living centers in the Richmond area, as well as boost staffing and supplies to facilities that haven’t been affected yet to “help ensure that residents and staff are able to keep the virus out of their buildings.”

Spanberger’s district includes Canterbury, one of 41 long-term care facilities in Henrico, which last week reported a separate death at the Masonic Home of Virginia in the eastern part of the county.

The nursing facilities with confirmed COVID-19 cases in the Richmond region — in addition to Canterbury and the Masonic Home — are Beth Sholom Senior Living in Henrico, The Virginia Home in Richmond, Spring Arbor Senior Living at Salisbury in Chesterfield County and The Harmony Collection at Hanover in Mechanicsville.

Canterbury alone has 88 confirmed cases in addition to the 35 deaths, but it also offers a glimmer of hope with the apparent recuperation of 16 residents from the disease.

Wright said the recovering residents remain in the center’s COVID wing, isolated from the 35 residents who have tested negative for the disease.

The residents who have recovered from their symptoms “are not at risk of reinfection,” Wright said, but they will not be returned to the center’s general population until they test negative in two tests spaced at least 24 hours apart.

Dr. Danny Avula, director of the Henrico and Richmond Health Districts, confirmed on Wednesday the first death of a Henrico resident from COVID-19 outside of a nursing facility since the outbreak began in mid-March.

The Crater Health District, based in Petersburg and encompassing seven other localities extending to North Carolina, confirmed on Wednesday that a fifth person had died from COVID-19 within the district.

Spokesperson Tara Rose said health department policy prevents her from saying in which locality the latest death occurred.

Rose said the district has confirmed 66 cases of the disease, including 24 in Prince George County, but none yet in congregate care facilities such as nursing homes.

“Currently, we’re not aware of any spread in nursing homes in our localities,” she said.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan has created what he called “strike teams” to help nursing homes in their fight against the virus. The teams, made up of hospital systems, the National Guard and health department, give emergency care, equipment and supplies to the facilities.

Asked Wednesday if Virginia would consider a similar tactic given the crisis at Canterbury, Gov. Ralph Northam said the state is “essentially doing the same things.”

“We have been very aggressive on making sure that we isolate individuals at the nursing homes,” Northam said while commending nursing homes for their work.

“It’s a difficult situation. They’re doing everything that they can to keep these individuals safe.”

 

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