Two veterans living at the Soldiers’ Home in Chelsea have died while sick with the novel coronavirus, following troubling reports out of the Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke, where several recent deaths were attributed to the virus.
The state Department of Health and Human Services announced the second Chelsea death and two additional Holyoke deaths in a statement Wednesday afternoon, after the first death in Chelsea was announced earlier in the day.
“While every life lost to COVID-19 is a tragedy, these veterans lived long, full lives, and their service to our community will never be forgotten,” a department spokesman said in the statement.
“We cannot forget that these nursing and assisted living facilities are providing care to a vulnerable population of older residents, many of whom have underlying illnesses,” he added later. “The Chelsea Soldiers’ Home has consistently followed appropriate protocols regarding COVID-19 cases.”
No further information was provided about the residents.
“We continue to take rapid action to mitigate the impact of the virus on our residents and staff,” the department said in an earlier statement Wednesday. "The Chelsea Soldiers’ Home is following to the letter the cleaning and infection control protocols from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Department of Veterans Affairs, and Massachusetts Department of Public Health, and vigilantly cleaning and disinfecting to maintain a clean and safe environment. . . . The Chelsea Soldiers’ Home followed appropriate reporting and protocols for a COVID-19 incident and is working to prioritize veteran residents’ health during this outbreak.”
According to home officials, as of Wednesday afternoon four residents have been tested for the virus, including those who died. One resident has tested negative, and one remains pending. Five staff members have also been tested, officials said, with two testing positive, one negative, and two tests still pending.
The home is taking a number of steps, including quarantining veterans to their wards to minimize risk of exposure, equipping staff with masks — as well as veterans who request one, restricting takeout food allowed on the property, postponing all new admissions, dedicating a ward strictly for residents who have tested positive, and testing all residents who show symptoms, according to officials.
The home said that beginning March 14, visitors to its long term care facility were restricted, as were visitors to its independent living facilities two days later.
Additional measures cited by the home included adding hand sanitation stations for workers as they enter the building and throughout the facility, disinfecting and treating “high touch" areas throughout the day, performing a deep clean of kitchen areas daily, taking daily temperatures of residents in long-term care, and restricting movements of residents in both the long-term care and independent living facilities.
The state-funded Chelsea home was established in 1882, according to the mass.gov website, and offers health care services to eligible Massachusetts veterans.
“Protecting the health of our veteran residents, and our staff, is the single most important part of the work of the Chelsea Soldiers’ Home," officials said.