Nursing Home Is Now West Virginia's ‘Ground Zero' for Virus

The first positive came on Sunday and set off a panic among families barred from visiting residents

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A West Virginia nursing home with at least 20 coronavirus cases has become “ground zero” for the state's growing virus caseload, officials said Wednesday.

Carl Shrader, medical director for the Sundale nursing home in Morgantown, said 16 residents and four staffers have tested positive for the virus. Seventy-six tests are pending as of Wednesday morning, though results are expected in the coming days, he said.

"This is ground zero for COVID-19 in West Virginia, and I'm sitting in it," Shrader told The Associated Press in a phone interview.

A majority of West Virginia's caseload, which nearly doubled in a day to at least 39 as of Tuesday night, has been reported in Monongalia County, where the nursing home is located.

The state has yet to register a death due to this coronavirus. But testing remains limited, meaning most people now spreading the highly contagious virus may not know that they've been infected.

Sundale has tested almost all of its 98 residents, Shrader said. Isolation measures are in place throughout the facility and the state's National Guard is assisting in the effort. He said the facility has received donations of testing supplies and safety equipment.

Shrader said the first positive result came on Sunday and set off a panic among families barred from visiting residents due to safety precautions.

“Clearly it was terrifying and very emotional for families and staff and in general,” he said.

A statewide stay-home order that also directed all nonessential businesses to close went into effect Tuesday night, intensifying previous moves by Gov. Jim Justice, who ordered the closure of bars, restaurants, casinos, gyms, health clubs, recreation centers, barbershops, nail salons and hair salons. Justice's family resort hotel has also been closed, along with lodges and the famous Hatfield–McCoy Trails. Schools are shuttered until at least March 27.

The Republican governor has repeatedly warned of the virus's potential damage in a state where about 20% of the population is 65 or older and has a high percentage of people have existing health problems.

A recent Kaiser Family Foundation study found that West Virginia has the nation's highest percentage of adults at risk of developing serious illnesses from the virus.

Justice acknowledged the rising toll at Sundale at the start of a virtual prayer serviceat the state Capitol on Wednesday.

"This terrible virus, we know, attacks them and attacks them first and foremost. And those are the ones that we have to look out for in every way especially, we want to look out for all of us but especially them," he said of the elderly.

The governor is scheduled to hold a news conference at 3 p.m.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks, and the overwhelming majority of people recover. But severe cases can need respirators to survive, and with infections spreading exponentially, hospitals across the country are either bracing for a coming wave of patients, or already struggling to keep up.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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