More than 2,000 residents and workers from at least 255 nursing homes in the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia have been infected by the coronavirus (COVID-19). According to data provided by officials, the number of cases across the region has nearly doubled since April 11.
At the 92-bed Regency Care Center of Silver Spring, Maryland, 57 residents have tested positive for the coronavirus and nine have died, according to a spokeswoman for the Montgomery County Health Department. On top of this, 28 staff members have also been infected with the virus.
In Fairfax County, Virginia, 29 long-term care facilities have confirmed cases of the coronavirus. Meanwhile, in Prince George County, 308 residents and employees at 18 nursing homes have been infected with the virus and 34 have died.
In D.C., 13 nursing homes have reported that 199 have tested positive for the virus and 15 have died.
“We are beginning to see some of the cases cluster around our long-term care facilities and our immediate-care facilities,” stated D.C. Health Director LaQuandra Nesbitt.
Across the region, officials have promised to ramps up testing at facilities and take every possible precaution. In the meantime, many relatives of residents have stated that they remain in the dark about coronavirus cases in facilities where their loved ones live.
Last week, D.C. began publishing information about infections at nursing homes. Maryland and Virginia, however, continue to refuse to do so, citing privacy concerns. Officials in the two states have instead chosen to defer to local health departments and individual facilities, which may or may not inform relatives of patients about outbreaks.
According to patients’ families, the lack of comprehensive information has made it difficult to decide how to care for loved ones and can compound their grief when a relative passes away. Meanwhile, advocates have warned that a lack of transparency has allowed outbreaks to go undetected and protected facilities that have responded poorly to the crisis.
“It is frustrating. There’s no other word to describe it,” said Montgomery County, Maryland, Councilmember Evan Glass.
“It’s a delicate balancing act,” he continued, referring to privacy concerns. “We’re in a health crisis and need to figure out how to share information in a timely way.”
Former Maryland state delegate Herman Taylor said he was told April 15 that his sister, a resident of Regency Care of Silver Spring, had tested positive for the virus. As of Thursday, he had not yet received any updates on her condition.
Taylor states that all of his calls to the facility have gone unanswered, and Regency employees refuse to tell him how many of their residents have been infected or if any have died.
“It’s the worst thing you can imagine,” he said.
“They’ve mistreated patients and their families for a long time, and the government’s done nothing,” Taylor continued. “Now’s their chance.”
Earlier this month, the federal government issued guidelines requiring nursing homes to regularly update patient’s families on coronavirus cases. However, details on how these guidelines will be enforced have not been revealed.
Though Maryland and Virginia say that they won’t start publishing lists of facilities with coronavirus cases, a spokeswoman for the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), which regulates care facilities, said that the agency would soon release weekly data that will include the names of nursing homes with known outbreaks.
In a recent memo, the CMS stated that nursing homes must report positive cases to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in addition to local and state authorities. These facilities must also inform residents and their representatives within 12 hours of initial confirmation of the coronavirus and then continue to update them once a week or each time another resident or staff member tests positive for the virus.
“Now more than ever, nursing home residents and their families have a right to know what’s happening in their facilities,” CMS administrator Seema Verma said at a press briefing. Verma also said that facilities that fail to report COVID-19 cases within 12 hours will face fines of $1,000 a week.
Verma also said that nursing home data will provide valuable infection data to health officials, as they consider whether and when to begin reopening their local economies.
“Nursing homes have been ground zero” for the outbreak, Verma said. “We recognize that in communities across the county, that’s where we see the first indication of spread.”