Coronavirus crisis: Falmouth retirement community grapples with spread of COVID-19

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Six residents of the OceanView retirement community in Falmouth tested positive for coronavirus as of March 21. 

The community’s first two cases, reported March 15, were identified as a man in his 80s who was being treated at Maine Medical Center in Portland and a related household member who was in self-quarantine at home. 

Staff and residents who came in contact with the infected residents were identified, and health staff has been conducting daily checks of any residents likely to have been exposed, according to a statement from OceanView spokeswoman Linda Varrell. Because of the limited supply of test kits, tests are ordered only if a resident shows symptoms, Varell said.

A barrier prevents access to Blueberry Lane at the OceanView at Falmouth senior living community, where six residents tested positive for coronavirus as of March 21. (Portland Phoenix file/Colin Ellis)

When reporting the third and fourth cases, Dr. Nirav D. Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said two of the new cases were in close household contact, and an investigation into where they may have acquired the illness was underway. 

“As of right now it is being classified as community transmission,” he said at a March 19 press conference. 

After the fifth and sixths cases were reported, Varrell said Maine CDC had determined that “due to statewide community spread, it is no longer possible to definitively determine the source of exposure.”

Three residents are being monitored at Maine Medical Center, and the other three are in self-quarantine, Varrell said.

Efforts to contain spread

Upon receiving positive results for the first two cases, OceanView requested its 421 residents to self-quarantine for 14 days. A statement issued when the next two cases were reported March 19 said residents had been ordered to shelter in place.

That afternoon, the facility issued a statement that it was “strongly recommending that residents self-quarantine for 14 days and vigilantly adhere to personal hygiene and social distancing best practices.”

Varrell explained that OceanView actually communicated to residents that they should self-quarantine early on the day of March 19 until it received further guidance from the CDC. 

“The original communication to residents was not an order, though the two phrases were being used interchangeably,” she said in an email March 19. 

She explained the different terms they are using in the next day’s statement. “’Shelter in place’”, she said, is for those who have not been exposed and are not symptomatic. This is what is being recommended to residents, to reduce community spread.

Residents who have been exposed but do not exhibit symptoms have been asked to “self-quarantine,” or stay at home, practice social distancing when it is necessary to leave home, and call their doctor if they develop symptoms.

“Isolation” is for those who have tested positive, and means that they must stay at home and isolate themselves from other household members.  

All residents have also been asked to self-monitor for symptoms and take their temperatures twice a day, according to the March 19 statement. All events and activities have been canceled, access to the buildings has been limited to essential staff and the frequency of cleaning in common areas has been increased.

Dining staff is delivering meals to community residents at their homes and nursing staff are doing daily wellness checks with residents by phone. Nursing staff is also doing daily checks on residents who have been exposed.

Of its approximately 200 staff on campus, three nurses are in self-quarantine, but have not shown symptoms and are still doing wellness checks on residents by phone, Varrell said March 21.

OceanView has also reported that some non-residents were exposed and that these exposures were reported to the CDC and to local authorities. 

Two Falmouth EMS crewmembers were asked by the Maine Emergency Management Agency to self-quarantine for 14 days after providing transportation to an OceanView resident with the virus.

Falmouth Fire-EMS Chief Howard Rice said this was done as a precautionary measure and that the crew members have not been tested for the virus. Falmouth Fire-EMS reported March 20 that those crew members are healthy and have been cleared to return to work.