Coronavirus outbreaks that began this month at long-term care facilities in Bangor and Dexter have infected 120 people and killed three, as such facilities continue to be the sites of major outbreaks 10 months into the pandemic.
An outbreak at the Westgate Center for Rehab and Alzheimer’s Care on Union Street in Bangor that the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention began investigating on Jan. 9 had infected 46 people — 28 residents and 18 staff members — as of Jan. 15. Three people had died in the outbreak, according to the Maine Center of Disease Control and Prevention.
In addition, Dexter Health Care had seen an outbreak of 74 COVID-19 cases, with 32 residents and 42 staff members having tested positive as of Jan. 15. The CDC opened that investigation on Jan. 8.
The new outbreaks bring the total number of ongoing COVID-19 outbreaks at Penobscot County long-term care facilities to eight. They are among 18 new outbreaks at nursing homes and assisted living facilities that have been reported since the start of January, as Maine’s virus surge has continued and a federal effort to vaccinate long-term care facility residents and staff involving the CVS and Walgreens pharmacy chains has rolled out slowly.
Long-term care facilities have been some of the hardest hit by COVID-19. The virus can quickly spread in those settings, where residents are especially susceptible to the virus because of age and health and because they live in close proximity. The virus can often find its way in as those working at the facilities come and go each day.
Robert Gurry, regional director of marketing and development for the National Health Care Associates’ Maine region — which operates the Westgate Center — said that it was “truly unfortunate” that an outbreak began in the facility just 10 days after residents and staff received their first round of vaccines.
As a memory care facility, it has been difficult for staff to enforce social distancing and mask-wearing among residents, Gurry said. He said five residents with COVID-19 were currently hospitalized, with the rest quarantining in the center.
“The positive cases speak to how prevalent COVID currently is in our county and the community and just how contagious it is,” Gurry said. “It also speaks to the utmost importance of masking, social distancing and distributing the vaccine.”
More than 70 percent of Maine’s outbreaks at long-term care facilities have been declared since November, when COVID-19 cases began to rise across the state. Some of Maine’s worst outbreaks have occurred since then, including at Pinnacle Health and Rehab in Canton, where 143 people have tested positive and 14 have died; Clover Health Care in Auburn, where 140 have tested positive and 12 have died; and Orono Commons, where 78 people have tested positive and six have died.
Many long-term care facilities, including Clover Health Care and Orono Commons, have seen repeat outbreaks as the virus’ spread has strengthened since the fall.
Westgate Center staff members and residents were given a COVID-19 vaccine on Dec. 29, according to a Facebook post.
As of Jan. 15, nearly 3,400 people — about 2,000 of them residents and the rest staff members — had been infected with COVID-19 in Maine’s long-term care facilities since April.
While those cases represent about 10 percent of the state’s total cases, the 267 people who have died in long-term care facility outbreaks represent a majority of those in Maine who have died because of the virus.
Penobscot County long-term care facilities have seen about 350 COVID-19 cases — with nearly 200 of them among residents. A total of 12 have died from the virus, which is less than a quarter of the county’s virus deaths since the start of the pandemic.
An administrator from Dexter Health Care did not respond to a request for comment.