A nursing home resident at Burlington Health & Rehab has tested positive for COVID-19, the facility confirmed Tuesday evening. Burlington city officials said they were aware of a second case linked to the same location.
The resident has since been moved from the Pearl Street facility, which provides skilled nursing care, short-term rehabilitation services and respite care. VTDigger.org first reported the case.
The 126-bed nursing home is one of nine in Vermont owned by Genesis HealthCare, a publicly traded company that operates more than 400 facilities nationwide.
The Vermont Department of Health reported five new cases of coronavirus Tuesday, bringing the state's total to 17. Two of the new cases involve Vermont residents.
State officials at the Health Department and the Department of Disabilities, Aging and Independent Living did not identify the nursing home by name. Health Department spokesperson Ben Truman said only that one of the new cases involved a Chittenden County man over the age of 80 who lived in a long-term care facility. He was being treated at the University of Vermont Medical Center, Truman said. The other Vermont resident was a Windsor County woman in her 70s, he said.
But in an evening video update, Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger said his office was aware of two cases linked to Burlington Health & Rehab, though it wasn’t clear whether the other individual worked, lived or visited there.
“This is a concerning situation,” Weinberger said. “This is exactly the kind of infection of a vulnerable facility that we have been seeking to avoid.”
The cases, he said, are confirmation of what city and health officials had already presumed: The virus is present and spreading through community transmission in the Queen City.
Nursing home employees who had close contact with the patient will stay out of the facility for 14 days, Genesis spokesperson Lori Mayer said in a statement. She would not disclose how many workers were affected or whether other residents have been quarantined or tested.
"Over the last several weeks, we have been focused on prevention and preparing our physicians, nurses, and nurses’ aides for the possibility of the Coronavirus reaching our center," the statement read. "We have been hyper-vigilant in screening patients and through this process, we quickly identified one resident who was confirmed positive for COVID-19."
The case emerged despite the facility having introduced protocols to prevent the virus. The center had already restricted visitors, required staff to wear masks and gowns, screened patients' symptoms twice daily, canceled communal dining and activities, and boosted its cleaning regimen.
Signs posted on the back door noted visitor screenings that went into effect on March 6 and delivery restrictions dated March 12.
The door to the facility
Mayer said the center was working with the Vermont Department of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services guidelines.
"We have also notified patients, residents and families and will remain in close contact with them in the coming weeks," she said. "We are doing everything possible to minimize any additional cases at our center."
The coronavirus outbreak has proven especially deadly in long-term care facilities. Thirty people associated with the Life Care Center of Kirkland near Seattle have died.
Last month, Genesis agreed to pay $740,000 to the State of Vermont to settle neglect allegations at three of its Vermont facilities, including Burlington Health & Rehab. The facility received one infection-control citation from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services in late 2017 that was later corrected. Thirteen other Vermont nursing homes have received similar citations since 2017.
COVID-19 threatens Vermont long-term care facilities that are already contending with an urgent workforce shortage and problems with quality of care, as Seven Days and Vermont Public Radio reported last year in the joint Worse for Care series.
Gov. Phil Scott declared a state of emergency on Friday. That executive order restricts who may visit nursing homes and other long-term care facilities.
Only medically necessary personnel and visitors for residents receiving end-of-life care may visit licensed nursing homes.
In an email, DAIL Commissioner Monica Hutt said the department is working with Burlington Health & Rehab to review its infection prevention program. The health department is also actively working with the home, she said.
“We have no information right now of further cases at that affected facility,” she said, “but the nature of this virus and its spread is such that I wouldn’t be surprised to see more cases.”