At the end of June, after completing a round of testing for the coronavirus at the state’s four veterans homes, the state Department of Veterans Affairs reported that all of the residents at the homes were “virus free.”
That is no longer the case.
The department reported Monday that after additional testing last week, nine residents and seven employees at the William F. Green State Veterans Home in Bay Minette tested positive for the coronavirus. So have seven employees at the Colonel Robert L. Howard State Veterans Home in Pell City, three at the Floyd “Tut” Fann State Veterans Home in Huntsville and four at the Bill Nichols State Veterans Home in Alexander City. The positive cases among residents at Green are the first to be reported by that facility.
“The need for continued universal testing at the state veterans homes is critical to reducing the risk of spreading the virus,” state Veterans Affairs Commissioner Kent Davis said in a news release.
Since April, nearly 100 residents at the Bill Nichols home have tested positive for the virus, and 35 of those residents have died.
The Veterans Affairs Department and the firm that operates the homes, Health Management Resources, stopped admissions to the homes in April and instituted protocols that, among other things, drastically cut back on visits to the homes.
Assistant Veterans Affairs Commissioner Bob Horton said that also in April, specialized National Guard teams disinfected each of the veterans homes; a seven-person team from the Birmingham VA Medical Center and an “infectious disease specialist” from the Alabama Department of Public Health did separate surveys of operations at the Nichols home; and an independent infectious disease expert is now at Nichols “to provide daily guidance” to staff there.
At the start of this month, the four veterans homes were housing 551 residents and were staffed by 914 employees.
“The homes continue to treat the pandemic as pervasive and a very high risk,” Davis said. “That is why we continue to use the same protective measures and will be doing so for the foreseeable future. Now is not the time to let our guard down. As Alabama has seen troubling numbers of new COVID-19 patients over the past few weeks, we need to be even more diligent.”
John Matson, a spokesman for the Alabama Nursing Home Association, said the association is aware of 195 facilities around the state that “have had a resident or staff member test positive for COVID-19 since the pandemic began.”
Assistant State Officer Dr. Karen Landers said that of the state’s nearly 1,100 coronavirus-related deaths, 500 have occurred in long-term care facilities.