State officials said Thursday that three more veterans had died at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home, the site of the state’s largest fatal outbreak of the coronavirus.
Eighteen people have now died since late March at the state-run home for veterans, at least 12 due to the virus. Tests on three other victims are pending; two tests were negative and one was inconclusive.
It was not clear whether the most recent deaths are linked to coronavirus.
Nearly two dozen other residents have tested positive for COVID-19, along with seven staff members. All residents have now been tested, state officials said. Testing of the staff is ongoing.
The Globe reported Tuesday that the outbreak was apparently kept secret, even as casualties mounted, and employees were denied basic personal protection equipment after the facility tested a resident for the virus. On Wednesday, the state hired attorney Mark Pearlstein, a former federal prosecutor, to oversee a private investigation into the veterans home and the events that led to the outbreak.
The facility’s superintendent, Bennett Walsh, who was placed on leave when the outbreak came to light earlier this week, has defended his handling of the crisis and said he never concealed the outbreak.
Val Liptak, a registered nurse and chief executive officer of Western Massachusetts Hospital, has assumed responsibility for the home.
At a State House news conference Thursday, Marylou Sudders, the state’s secretary of Health and Human Services said officials have identified 78 facilities serving seniors with COVID-19 “clusters.”
“We are working hard to mitigate these clusters and keep residents and staff safe,” she said.
In Holyoke, isolation and quarantine zones are being established to contain the outbreak. The National Guard is at the facility to support staffing needs, conduct staff testing, and support the clinical command structure, officials said.
Staff are screened multiple times a day and are asked to leave work if they have elevated temperatures.
The state has sent more than 10,000 pieces of personal protective equipment to the home since Sunday, officials said. Last week, the state’s emergency management agency distributed tents to all state-run 24-hour facilities to be used as the buildings’ sole entrances, where each employee is screened and given protective equipment before entering.