COVID-19 outbreaks across two South Boston long-term care facilities have exploded this week to more than 150 cases at a time the area is still witnessing significant community spread of the virus.
South Boston Health and Rehab — the facility formerly known as Woodview — reported its outbreak on Oct. 23, according to online data. As of Monday evening, there were 145 cases of the illness caused by the coronavirus, according to Brookie Crawford, a spokesperson for the Virginia Department of Health.
At Berry Hill Health and Rehab Center, there were eight cases linked to an outbreak reported there Nov. 4.
While three new outbreaks in Southside came to light last week in data from the Virginia Department of Health, it wasn’t until Monday morning the facilities were officially named. The health department defines an outbreak as two or more positive tests in a single setting.
Saber, a Cleveland-based company, completed the purchase of Sentara Woodview —along with other Virginia nursing homes and facilities in Sentara Healthcare’s Life Care division — on Nov. 1.
“The facility acts in the best interest of its residents to promote their health, safety and welfare during this evolving crises,” Dr. Nancy A. Istenes, chief medical officer for Saber, said in a statement to The Gazette.
She said the former Woodview facility has worked with the health department and continues “to follow all necessary guidelines, including any necessary testing and reporting requirements.”
In addition, they’ve instituted what she calls a “personalized care plan” for affected residents and routinely updates residents and families on their conditions.
A call to the administrator at Berry Hill Health and Rehab for more details on the outbreak there was not returned by Tuesday afternoon.
McKenna Luzynski, an epidemiologist with the Southside Health District, could not provide a breakdown of the number of employees versus residents who have been infected. In the Southside Health District — an area that includes Halifax, Mecklenburg and Brunswick counties — 161 health care workers have tested positive for COVID-19 since the pandemic started, an increase of 13 in a week.
“Halifax County is experiencing a significant community spread,” Luzynski wrote in an email to The Gazette, when asked how COVID-19 can infiltrate a facility.
It would be “irresponsible to attempt to assign a single point of entry of the virus into the facility,” Luzynski said, as workers come and go each day, but residents also leave to go to medical appointments.
The Woodview outbreak marks the largest to date in the Southside Health District, Luzynski confirmed, also noting the facility has the combined largest number of residents and staff.
Speaking generally and not specifically about the South Boston outbreaks, Luzynski said the period of time from exposure to symptom onset can typically range from two to 14 days. That means it’s possible that a single case or a few cases can infect a number of people with the virus spreading without anyone realizing they have it.
“A long-term care facility is particularly tricky,” Luzynski wrote.
Residents leave the facility for medical appointments where they may inadvertently come into contact with COVID-19 patients. Also, employees enter the facility each day after being out-and-about in the wider community, in doing so they “bring with them everything from the community,” according to Luzynski.
“Then, they have close contact with the most vulnerable of our population,” she wrote. “One staff member typically works with multiple residents, and residents also frequently share rooms or bathrooms.”
Any virus spreads quickly through a long-term care facility, and COVID-19 is certainly no exception.
On Tuesday, Halifax County had a total of 637 cases of COVID-19, an increase of 72 in the last week. The latest outbreak numbers likely are not reflected in Tuesday’s total.
A website that tracks outbreaks at long-term care facilities only reported 41 at the former Woodview site on Tuesday morning. Data with the Virginia Long-Term Care Task Force can sometimes be delayed displaying online.
Cases are assigned to a person’s official place of residence and are only recorded once, meaning if someone tests positive for COVID-19 multiple times, it’s still reported as only one case, according to the health department.
Joni Henderson, a spokesperson for Sentara Halifax Regional Hospital, would not verify how many COVID-19 patients are being treated at the local hospital saying the numbers change daily.
“I can confirm that, like many hospitals in Virginia, we do have COVID-19 patients in our hospital, and we are following necessary protocols to keep all patients and employees safe,” she wrote in an email to The Gazette.
The third outbreak in the Southside Health District is at Clarksville Health and Rehab, formerly Meadow View Terrace prior to Saber’s purchase.
Five cases are listed at Meadow View in an outbreak reported on Nov. 4. The same facility was one of the first hit in April when the coronavirus started infiltrating Southern Virginia. In that first outbreak there, 84 cases were recorded, and 14 people died.
With a daily average caseload of more than 100,000, the United States is continuing to set COVID-19 records: the most number of cases in a single day and the fewest number of days it took to add another one million cases, Luzynski pointed out.
“This trend is reflected in our community,” she said. “COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are on the rise across the commonwealth, and the number of reported outbreaks are some of the highest since the start of the pandemic.”
Even after Monday’s signal that a vaccine may prove to be 90% effective “we are still very much in the trenches of this pandemic,” Luzynski said.
“Simple and effective personal precautions are the key to limiting the spread of this disease. It is important now more than ever to follow recommendations that we know can protect our families and ourselves and slow the spread of COVID-19.”