Seven residents of the Birchwood Terrace nursing home in Burlington have tested positive for the coronavirus, the center confirmed Wednesday, despite weeks of increasingly stringent steps to keep the disease away.
The first resident tested positive on Monday. Six other positive test results came back Wednesday, while several more are still pending, the center said in a press release. No employees have tested positive so far, executive director Alecia DiMario told Seven Days.
Birchwood Terrace, located at 43 Starr Farm Road, is a large nursing home and short-term rehab center in the city’s New North End with 112 current residents. Those with COVID-19 are receiving medical care in a separate area of the facility, she said.
The source of the exposure has not been identified, DiMario said. The center is working with the University of Vermont Medical Center and state health officials to identify other residents and staff who may have been exposed.
“The health and safety of our residents and staff is our number one priority," DiMario said in the release. "We are testing affected residents to help ensure their health, and we will continue to be proactive and vigilant in curtailing spread of the virus."
Birchwood is the second nursing home in Burlington with a COVID-19 outbreak. The first, at the Burlington Health & Rehabilitation Center, has exacted a devastating toll. Since the first case at the Pearl Street facility was discovered on March 16, the virus has infected 22 residents and 14 health care workers there. Eight of its elderly residents have died.
The outbreak at Birchwood Terrace was mentioned Wednesday morning during a state press conference. Vermont Health Commissioner Mark Levine listed it among eight eldercare entities across Vermont — including long-term care homes, independent living communities and a home health provider — where cases have been discovered.
Levine did not provide details about the situation at Birchwood Terrace at that time. The Vermont Department of Health did not respond to written questions late Wednesday.
The center's statement included a comment from UVM Medical Center geriatrician Dr. Michael LaMantia stating that Birchwood Terrace has been "proactive" in maintaining resident and staff safety.
DiMario has been posting updates about Birchwood’s COVID-19 preparations and testing status to its Facebook page over the last several weeks, including one on Monday that disclosed the first confirmed case. The center barred most visitors on March 11, then locked its doors on March 16 after “many families continued to attempt to visit,” according to the posts.
It began taking employees’ temperatures daily on March 13, DiMario said. The first residents with flu-like symptoms were tested for COVID-19 on March 20, the Facebook posts indicated, and testing continued last week.
“We cannot be too cautious!” DiMario wrote on March 27.
The virus still managed to get in. Birchwood managers were in contact with the Health Department “immediately” after learning of the first case on March 30, the executive director said.
DiMario, citing patient privacy regulations, declined to provide additional information about the affected residents, including whether they were receiving short-term or long-term care, or whether they had been living in the same part of the building.
Word of Birchwood’s testing did not spread publicly until Wednesday. Asked about the outbreak during his daily 2 p.m. briefing, Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger said he'd only just heard about the situation and knew very little about it.
Vermont’s testing capacity has increased in recent days, leading to more expansive screening at long-term care homes with positive cases.
At Wednesday’s press conference, Levine said the Health Department would begin testing every resident and staffer at Burlington Health & Rehab, including those without symptoms.
Some Birchwood residents without symptoms are also being tested, according to the center.