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Long-term care facilities, nursing homes are primary hotspots for coronavirus outbreaks in Virginia

The Virginia Department of Health reports more than half of all COVID-19 outbreaks are in long-term care facilities, with 1,009 cases and 80 deaths so far.

NORFOLK, Va. — EDITOR'S NOTE: Video originally included with this story featured places in Hampton Roads that did not fall into the category of long-term care facilities/nursing homes and/or were not locations of outbreaks of COVID-19. That video has been removed.

The Virginia Department of Health reports more than half of all COVID-19 outbreaks in Virginia are in long-term care facilities, highlighting infection control challenges in nursing homes and deadly threats to a vulnerable population.

EVMS Infectious Disease Specialist Dr. Edward Oldfield calls it a perfect storm: older residents are more susceptible to coronavirus and transmission rates are high in assisted living facilities.

“It’s just an extraordinarily difficult situation with a very high-risk population," Oldfield said.

VDH reports 98 out of a total of 176 outbreaks have started in long-term care facilities, with 1,009 cases and 80 deaths as of Friday, April 24.

Even with long-term care facilities isolating, the virus is still getting in.

"I think it's almost unpreventable," Oldfield said. "When it gets in there people die, so it's very visible."

Oldfield understands the pain of family members barred from visiting their loved ones; he said his mother will turn 101 in June and he hasn't been able to see her for over a month.

“To save their life, that’s what you have to do," he said.

Oldfield believes nursing homes and assisted living facilities will need to keep isolation protocol longer than the rest of the community, once cases start to drop.

“I think they’ll still have to continue isolation because it’s just so dangerous to have something come in," he said.

State inspectors cited 35 percent of Virginia nursing homes with infection control violations in 2019, before the coronavirus pandemic arrived. Oldfield said this is an example of how difficult it is to control the spread of disease in nursing home environments.

He said the biggest help would be routine testing of care facility staff members to prevent asymptomatic transmission, but tests are still severely limited.

“Testing is crucial to opening the economy, protecting nursing home residents... it’s really what the game is all about and we’re absolutely deficient," Oldfield said. 

RELATED: Feds to track, publicly share info on nursing home COVID-19 outbreaks

RELATED: Islands of protection in a sea of COVID-19: Dozens of Georgia senior living facilities reporting zero cases

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