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Retirement communities brace for possible COVID-19 onslaught

Retirement communities brace for possible COVID-19 onslaught

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Bracing for an onslaught.

That’s the mood at Warm Hearth Village, the 200-acre nonprofit continuing-care retirement community just outside Blacksburg, as workers and residents prepare for a possible COVID-19 outbreak.

“We know it’s going to hit us, and it’s probably going to hit us pretty hard,” spokeswoman Tambra Dixon said. “Our job is to mitigate that as much as we possibly can.”

Worldwide death rates for COVID-19, a novel coronavirus that can cause serious and even fatal respiratory illness, appear to be higher for older adults than for other age groups. But those numbers shift daily and are difficult to accurately calculate.

Residents of retirement communities and nursing care facilities are thought by experts to be particularly at risk. No cases have been reported at Warm Hearth, Dixon said. Still, the staff has implemented new policies to protect the community’s 600 residents.

The Village Center, which is open to the public and operates a cafe has canceled all events and catering, Dixon said. Workers are sanitizing all facilities and are encouraging widespread use of hand sanitizer and sanitizing wipes.

Visitors to every building are met at the door and asked to complete a checklist about where they have traveled and if they have any symptoms of illness, Dixon said. New residents and new employees or workers who have traveled also are screened.

That same screening protocol extends to an independent Carilion Clinic that operates at Warm Hearth. Carilion spokesman Chris Turnbull said clinic patients are being asked to call ahead before coming in, so that some of the screening can be done over the phone.

To protect the frailest residents, visitation at the Showalter Center assisted living facility and the Kroontje Center skilled nursing unit has been limited to immediate family members and caretakers only, Dixon said. Visiting hours at those buildings have also been shortened.

Dixon said detailed lockdown plans exist in case the virus is confirmed on the grounds.

“We will continue to monitor the situation and take whatever steps we feel are needed in order to minimize the risk to our residents and employees,” Warm Hearth CEO Ferne Moschella wrote in an email. “Despite our best efforts, we may still find ourselves facing an outbreak in our Village, and we will continue to do our utmost to serve our residents through whatever may come.”

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