Two more residents of Canterbury Rehabilitation & Healthcare Center have died, but state health officials and the Henrico County nursing home can’t yet say their deaths were caused by COVID-19 as part of the coronavirus pandemic sweeping through Virginia.
Canterbury said Friday that the two additional deaths were “presumed positive” cases but had not been confirmed as COVID-19, the severe respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus. Four residents of the home have died of the disease this week and 19 have tested positive for COVID-19 in just under two weeks, including two in the past day.
The latest deaths occurred over the past 24 hours as the skilled nursing facility struggles to isolate confirmed and potentially infected residents, while bolstering its depleted staff and seeking supplies of protective gear to prevent the transmission of the disease from residents who aren’t showing COVID-19 symptoms. Six Canterbury employees already had tested positive.
“The situation continues to be of great concern,” said Dr. Danny Avula, director of the Richmond and Henrico Health Districts, at a news conference Friday outside his office on East Cary Street. “We are doing everything we can to come alongside the facility to help. I think their biggest challenges are really staff at this point.”
Avula said the center has lost staff to isolation and quarantine, but has reached out to other nursing agencies for more nurses, which he said should bolster the staff early next week.
The spread of the disease also has been aided by the lack of personal protective equipment, especially for interacting with residents who don’t show symptoms of the disease but may still carry and transmit it.
The coronavirus outbreak at Canterbury is particularly alarming in Henrico, which is home to 41 nursing homes and other long-term care facilities. The county also has 65,000 residents over 60, about 1 of every 5 residents and the fourth-highest number in the state, according to 2017 population estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau.
Avula estimated that more than 50 residents are showing symptoms, meaning nearly one-third of the residents have tested positive or are showing symptoms of the coronavirus. Public health and Canterbury officials are awaiting test results approved by the Virginia Department of Health before reporting those cases to avoid confusion, including the latest fatalities.
“There are people who have confirmed COVID-19 disease because they’ve been tested through an approved state lab,” Avula said. “There are other people who have been tested through some of these newer labs … so we are still kind of cross-referencing to make sure that those positive COVID-19 [tests] are confirmed by VDH before we call them ‘confirmed COVID-19 deaths.’
“So you may see some discrepancies on the case counts that are being put out.”
One of the two newest deaths at Canterbury was a 94-year-old man who chose, with his family, to die at the facility’s new “comfort care” unit for residents whose survival is unlikely, said Dr. James Wright, the center’s chief medical director.
The man fell ill on Thursday evening and died early on Friday, giving no time to test for COVID-19, Wright said. “He went from well to critically ill within a matter of six to eight hours.”
The other resident, a 78-year-old man, died at a local hospital after being put on a ventilator at his family’s request, the medical director said.
Canterbury officials have contacted family of residents to determine how they want the center to handle potentially fatal medical conditions. The center has created a comfort care or palliative component of its 60-bed wing for COVID-19 patients, which also includes those who are newly infected or are convalescing from the disease.
“It’s the toughest thing any of us has been through,” Wright said.