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Five coronavirus deaths at Newton assisted living facility; 36 residents and 10 staff infected

The number of cases in Massachusetts nursing homes rose by more than 100 on Tuesday.

The Falls at Cordingly Dam in Newton.
The Falls at Cordingly Dam in Newton.Suzanne Kreiter/Globe staff

The number of coronavirus cases in Massachusetts nursing homes rose by more than 100 on Tuesday, underscoring the daunting challenge facing these facilities as they try to protect the state’s most vulnerable residents. There are now 958 cases among staff and residents in 129 long-term care facilities, according to data from the Department of Public Health.

The fast-growing case count among nursing home residents and those who care for them is likely due at least in part to an increase in testing, thanks to a new program run by the Massachusetts National Guard, but it is still almost certainly vastly below the actual number of cases because testing, a key component to curbing the spread, remains widely unavailable.

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And although state officials have begun to release a daily total of confirmed cases in senior housing facilities, they continue to decline to release a list of facilities where the virus is confirmed, leaving terrified families at the mercy of each facility and whether or not it chooses to release the information about their loved ones.

In one of the latest grim updates, The Falls at Cordingly Dam, an assisted living facility in Newton, said Tuesday that five residents had died recently of complications linked to the virus, and dozens more have tested positive.

An additional 36 residents and 10 workers have tested positive for the virus. One of the residents who died had been in hospice care.

A spokeswoman said the facility is following guidelines set by public health authorities and working to increase access to testing for residents and associates. “Public health officials have said that more COVID-19 testing will inevitably reveal more positive cases, even among those who have not yet shown any symptoms,” said spokeswoman Amanda Cillo.

The state lawmaker who represents this facility on Tuesday pushed for more transparency from state officials about which facilities are dealing with cases and how many residents have died.

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Representative Ruth Balser, a Newton Democrat, filed a bill that would require the state to report the weekly toll of COVID-19 deaths in long-term care facilities, something it currently does not do. House Speaker Robert DeLeo signaled his support for the bill, saying in a joint statement with Balser that “we need prompt information on how COVID-19 affects those in our long-term care facilities."

Coronavirus continues to attack residents in all corners of the state.

In Western Massachusetts, at the Williamstown Commons nursing home, 34 residents have tested positive for the virus and an additional 12 have died, a spokeswoman for that facility said Tuesday. The nursing home, part of Berkshire Health Systems, is awaiting the results of 75 additional test.

In Agawam, 28 patients at Heritage Hall West, a nursing home, have tested positive along with six staff members, according to spokeswoman Lori Mayer. One patient at the 164-bed facility has passed away, she said.

At Life Care Center of Nashoba Valley, in Littleton, so far five residents have passed away.

Perhaps the biggest obstacle for facilities as they try to stem the number of cases is inadequate access to testing, which allows staff to isolate residents who test positive from healthy residents. Testing also allows staff to know when they need to wear protective safety gear.

Last week, state officials launched a new program with the state National Guard designed to speed up testing at nursing homes.

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So far that program has sent National Guard members to 80 facilities in the state and completed more than 1,300 tests since it began last week, state officials said Tuesday. But it is unclear how officials determine which facilities are prioritized.

Life Care Center of Nashoba Valley received access to that program last week and Monday received results that showed 48 positive residents, bringing the total number to 65, including 14 residents who are now hospitalized. Another 31 residents tested negative with one inconclusive test and three results pending.

Berkshire Health Systems had been in talks with state officials to make another of its facilities, Fairview Commons in Great Barrington, available to the state as a COVID-19 recovery facility for patients after they leave the hospital. But it tested all its residents via the National Guard program and abandoned the plan after five of the approximately 100 residents tested positive.

On Tuesday, National Guard members were deployed Tuesday to a nursing home in Chelmsford after several residents tested positive. The assistance came after “numerous” residents at Palm Center, a nursing home, tested positive for COVID-19, according to the town’s police chief, James M. Spinney.

The testing was done out of an “abundance of caution” and does not suggest wider danger in Chelmsford as a whole, Spinney said in a statement.

Bruce Weinstein, whose 98-year-old mother is a resident in the memory care unit at Chestnut Park at Cleveland Circle, a Benchmark facility located in Brighton, said he has been unsuccessfully lobbying the company and state and city health officials to test all residents and workers at the facility for more than a week.

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On March 29, a nurse who worked on his mother’s floor tested positive for the virus; then on April 3 Benchmark told families that a resident and another worker also tested positive, Weinstein said.

“It’s as if they are waiting for a time bomb to explode before they will test all people,” Weinstein said. “You need to test the staff and the people in that building so it doesn’t spread more."

John Hilliard of the Globe staff contributed to this report.



Shelley Murphy can be reached at shelley.murphy@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @shelleymurph. Laura Krantz can be reached at laura.krantz@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @laurakrantz.