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With 30 residents dead, Belmont Manor emerges as another symbol of misery in coronavirus pandemic

The Belmont Manor Nursing and Rehabilitation Center.
The Belmont Manor Nursing and Rehabilitation Center.Barry Chin/Globe Staff/The Boston Globe

For more than 50 years, Belmont Manor Nursing and Rehabilitation Center has been the sole option for skilled nursing care in Belmont and the life’s work of two generations of the Karger family, which opened the facility in 1967.

On Thursday, the family-owned nursing home near the open fields and woodlands of the Beaver Brook Reservation emerged as another symbol of misery in the COVID-19 pandemic, after the facility announced the virus had killed 30 patients, accounting for all but one death in Belmont apparently connected to the illness.

The development came as the state announced 2,263 new infections and 137 new deaths attributed to the coronavirus. The virus has claimed the lives of 1,245 people in Massachusetts, 49 percent of whom lived in long-term care facilities.

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During his daily briefing on Thursday, Governor Charlie Baker urged residents to cooperate with a growing team of “contact tracers” mapping the spread of COVID-19. The project, launched with Boston-based nonprofit Partners in Health, has hired 176 people, and many more will be coming online in the coming weeks. The program, Baker said, will help officials craft strategies to stem the spread of the virus.

They are interviewing patients about whom they had had close contact with. “We urge residents to take this call and provide the relevant information” if reached by the contact tracers, Baker said. He called the initiative “key to helping the state build a strategy for how we can get back to something like a new normal.”

Baker also provided an update Thursday on the state’s supply of personal protective equipment and hospital bed capacity. He said the state has distributed more than 3.8 million pieces of gear, including masks, gloves, and gowns, to hospitals, nursing homes, community health centers, and public safety personnel.

In the state’s hospitals, Baker said, roughly half of the 17,800 beds are in use, with temporary hospitals in Boston and Worcester, as well as temporary facilities opening soon in Bourne, Lowell, and Dartmouth, available to address any potential overflow as coronavirus cases surge.

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“We do want to be able to rely on those beds if we need them,” Baker said.

In Belmont, the death toll at Belmont Manor is among the highest publicly disclosed in the state among elder-care facilities.

“It’s horrible," said Town Administrator Patrice Garvin. "There are just no words to describe it.”

The state-run Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke had seen 52 deaths as of Thursday, including 44 linked to COVID-19. With a total of 222 positive cases, 81 staffers and 141 residents, the outbreak there is outpacing the toll at a nursing home in Kirkland, Wash., which marked the onset of the US crisis and has been linked to 37 deaths.

There are 232 long-term care facilities in Massachusetts that have reported at least one case of COVID-19, the state said, and so far 4,798 residents and workers have been infected. State officials said this week that about half of the people who have died of the virus in Massachusetts lived in long-term-care facilities.

“One thing we know about nursing homes is that it can spread very quickly,” state Secretary of Health and Human Services Marylou Sudders said at a State House news conference.

The state had assigned a rapid-response clinical team to work with Belmont Manor, she said.

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“Every member of the Belmont Manor team is heartbroken by the losses of beloved members of our community. From the beginning of this pandemic, we have taken every possible step to address this fast-moving situation," said a statement from administrator Stewart Karger, who began working at the facility under his father in 1979.

The death of a patient on April 1 was the first linked to COVID-19 at Belmont Manor. On Saturday, the town said 13 patients there had died from the virus.

Then in a letter to families dated Wednesday, Belmont Manor announced that a total of 30 patients had died, including four who had been hospitalized.

“Every death represents an enormous amount of loss to the families of these individuals,” Karger wrote. “And because many of these residents have been with us for a longer period of time, this feeling of loss is something that we at Belmont Manor share.”

The letter said 116 residents have tested positive with two test results outstanding. Among employees, 59 have tested positive out of 94 who have been tested. The company said it employs around 190 people.

Belmont Manor Nursing Home Inc. has a five-star rating from Medicare, which bases its ratings on health inspections, staffing, and quality measures. Belmont Manor’s rating is “much above average,” according to Medicare. The facility has 135 certified beds.

Cynthia Lee Segal, 72, died at Belmont Manor on April 9 after becoming infected, her sister said.

Linda Fritz said Segal developed a fever in late March and later tested positive for COVID-19.

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A nurse facilitated two FaceTime calls for the sisters before Segal died, Fritz said.

“They were very kind, and I think they are stunned by this happening, too,” said Fritz, who lives in Newton.

Still, Fritz said, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention made it too difficult to get testing in nursing homes, and plans by the state and Belmont Manor to address the outbreak have proven inadequate.

“I would like to think that Belmont Manor and the large number of deaths resulting at the nursing home should give nursing homes, the state, and maybe the country many lessons learned for the next wave of the pandemic,” she said.

Garvin said town officials began communicating with Belmont Manor about COVID-19 on March 5 and delivered 900 masks to the facility. On Thursday, she said the town planned to deliver 150 gowns to the nursing home.

The state said it has been in touch with the facility by phone for two weeks and planned to help the facility with staffing.

The National Guard has performed 43 tests onsite, and another 190 self-test kits have been delivered to Belmont Manor, the state said.

Sudders on Thursday said Massachusetts is one of two states offering mobile testing to nursing homes, rest homes, assisted-living facilities, and other state-run care centers.

As of Thursday, the state had administered 5,883 tests at 279 elder-care facilities and 10,995 self-test kits had been sent to 103 facilities, Sudders said. The National Guard also planned to visit 11 sites Thursday and administer about 1,300 tests, she said.

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Matt Stout, Martin Finucane, Travis Andersen, Jaclyn Reiss, and Hanna Krueger of the Globe staff contributed.


Laura Crimaldi can be reached at laura.crimaldi@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @lauracrimaldi. John R. Ellement can be reached at john.ellement@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @JREbosglobe.