ROANOKE — Seven residents of the South Roanoke Nursing Home have died since an outbreak of COVID-19 swept through the Franklin Road facility.
Spokeswoman Jennifer Eddy said Saturday that three residents are in a hospital and 33 others who have tested positive are being cared for in the nursing home. Additionally, at least 28 staff members are infected.
The seven residents who died were in their 80s and 90s and had other serious illnesses.
Eddy said each had tested positive for COVID-19 but it was not known whether the virus hastened or contributed to the deaths.
“They all had significant health issues. Some were on hospice,” she said.
The nursing home two weeks ago reported a staff member tested positive, and that it was working with the health department to segregate her coworkers and the residents she cared for. Then a resident and two other staff members became ill.
South Roanoke then asked the health department to test all 100 staff and 81 residents. The point-in-time testing took place April 26, but results were slower to come in than the home had hoped for, Eddy said, adding results for 14 residents were inconclusive or unknown. They will be retested Monday.
“Of the 33 people, the residents, that have tested positive that are currently in our facility, 32 of them are asymptomatic. So the vast majority of folks that we now know have COVID-19 in their system, we would have not known if we hadn’t done comprehensive testing,” she said.
Eddy also said no staff member with symptoms had worked at the facility.
“That’s what makes this disease so awful. We were doing everything known possible to protect people, and people who are not sick are spreading it,” she said.
At the start of the pandemic, the nursing home attempted to minimize cross contamination by asking staff members who worked at more than one facility to not do so. It also restricted access and barred visitors.
“But you can’t have people not coming in. It’s a skilled nursing home, just like a hospital, we have people coming in to provide care,” she said. “This is absolutely a terrible situation.”
She said South Roanoke is caring for residents as though everyone is infected, and all staff are wearing full personal protection equipment, including face shields.
The Virginia Department of Health on Saturday attributed 335 of the state’s 616 deaths to outbreaks at long-term care facilities. The long-term care deaths accounted for 24 of the 35 additional deaths reported in 24 hours.
The department said there have been 132 outbreaks in long-term care facilities, accounting for 2,483 cases.
Seven outbreaks have occurred in the Roanoke and Alleghany Health Districts, with at least three of them in long-term care facilities.
“As the number of cases go up in my district, most of them are related to these outbreaks,” said Dr. Molly O’Dell, who is coordinating the health districts’ response to the pandemic.
“What we’re going through is unprecedented,” she said. “When we have one outbreak (of an infectious disease), it’s a big deal, and we’ve had seven that are active all at the same time. It’s very, very challenging.”
O’Dell is barred by state code from talking about any outbreak without the facilities owners’ permission.
“It’s just the tenaciousness of the virus that is our biggest foe. It’s not the facilities’ fault by and large. Everybody has been so cooperative,” she said. “Everybody has been motivated, trying to do the right thing. That helps, but it doesn’t change things necessarily.”
Statewide, VDH reported Saturday there are 17,731 COVID-19 cases, which is an increase of 803, or 5%, over the 16,901 reported Friday.
The 17,731 cases include 16,979 confirmed cases and 752 probable cases.
Last week, the VDH started including probable COVID-19 cases and probable deaths in the state’s overall tally. Probable cases are people who are symptomatic with a known exposure to COVID-19, but have not been confirmed with a positive test.
The VDH said 112,450 people have been tested for the virus in Virginia, and there have been 2,519 hospitalizations.
Fairfax County, the state’s most populous locality with more than 1.1 million people, has the most cases with 4,046 and 153 deaths.
In the also heavily populated Richmond area there are 2,034 cases and 155 deaths.
But in the less populated Roanoke metro area there are far fewer reported cases and deaths. The Roanoke Valley has had 213 reported cases and three deaths, all three Botetourt County residents. Reported cases did, however, more than double in Roanoke and Salem over five days. The metro area includes Roanoke, Roanoke County, Salem and Botetourt, Craig and Franklin counties.
State health officials have said there’s a lag in the reporting of statewide numbers on the VDH website. Figures on the website might not include cases or deaths reported by localities or local health districts.
In the New River Valley metro, there have been only 75 reported cases and one death, in Montgomery County. That metro area includes Montgomery, Pulaski, Floyd and Giles counties and the city of Radford.
By way of contrast, Harrisonburg, which has had a nursing home outbreak, has had 470 cases and 15 deaths, and surrounding Rockingham County has had 259 cases and also 15 deaths. The Harrisonburg metro area has approximately one-third of the population of the Roanoke metro area.
There are coronavirus cases in 130 of Virginia’s 133 cities and counties. Only three localities — Bath County, Bland County and Dickenson County — have no reported cases.