Richard Racine carries an Air Force flag at a Veterans Day ceremony at the Lewiston Armory on Monday, Nov. 11, 2019. Each branch of the military had a flag bearer present their flag. Veterans of each branch of the service were invited to stand and be recognized. Credit: Andree Kehn | Sun Journal via AP

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Fearing a possible outbreak in nursing homes across the country, the Veterans Affairs organization has banned all visitors at its 134 community living centers and 24 spinal cord injury and disorder centers.

The measure, announced on Tuesday by United States Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie, went into effect immediately and prohibits visits except in what the organization called “compassionate cases,” when veterans are in end-of-life stages.

Visitors will be limited to the veteran’s specific room in these cases.

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The VA has one Community Living Center in Maine at the Togus Center in Augusta, although the Maine Veterans Home also offers some long-term care for veterans.

Additionally, all VA nursing homes have stopped taking in new admissions for the time being. These facilities will continue to accept resident transfers from other VA facilities, once it’s determined the patient isn’t at risk of infection or could transmit COVID-19.

Staff at the organization’s nursing homes and spinal cord injury and disorder centers will be screened on a daily basis, according to the VA.

The announcement comes just days after more than a dozen residents of a Kirkland, Washington, nursing home who died tested positive for COVID-19. On Tuesday, Kirkland health officials said that 10 long-term care facilities have had coronavirus cases.

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The same day, Mark Parkinson, president of the American Health Care Association, encouraged all people, including family members, not to visit nursing homes and assisted-living facilities.

“Until we get this under control, our new guidance, as of today, is to family members, to loved ones: Don’t visit the facilities. Instead, come up with an alternate way to communicate.”

“The grim reality is that, for the elderly, Covid-19 is almost a perfect killing machine,” Parkinson said.

Some nursing homes in Maine have already adopted these precautionary measures from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention to protect some of the most at-risk for contracting the illness — older adults with weakened immune systems and serious chronic conditions — as the illness spreads across the globe.

At the Orono Commons nursing home, everyone must go through a screening process before entering. Lori Mayer, a spokeswoman for Genesis Healthcare which runs the facility, said that it is also discouraging visitors but they haven’t prohibited them.

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Kelley Cash, the chief executive officer of the Maine Veterans Home — separate from the VA which operates six facilities around the state — said that it is taking similar measures to prepare for a possible outbreak.

The state organization hasn’t prohibited visitors in their facilities yet, although that is the next step, Cash said. It currently doesn’t have any suspected cases among residents or staff, he added.

Still, all staff and visitors must undergo screening before entering the facility as a precautionary measure. “We’re planning and preparing for the worst case scenario.”

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