Fairfax County health official discusses COVID-19 outbreaks at nursing homes

Officials at Sunrise Living in McLean announced several deaths related to COVID-19 on Tuesday, amid outbreaks at longterm care facilities across Fairfax County and the Commonwealth.

A spokesman for Sunrise declined to reveal the number of deaths or total cases of coronavirus at its McLean facility but said protocol is in place to prevent the spread of the virus.

The announcement comes as the Virginia Department of Health reports 16 outbreaks at elder care facilities in Fairfax County and outbreaks at 56 facilities in the state, amounting to 638 cases and 36 deaths.

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Dr. Benjamin Schwartz, the director of epidemiology at the Fairfax County Health Department, says nursing homes and other senior living facilities are especially ripe for coronavirus.

"Longterm care facilities are settings that have many people in close proximity who are at high risk both for infection as well as for severe infection. There are many caregivers in longterm care facilities who may become infected out in the community and unwittingly because they are asymptomatic they can bring the infection into the facility where it can spread easily between the residents," Dr. Schwartz said.

Dr. Schwartz said the health department has issued guidance to facilities on how to prevent outbreaks and how to contain them. The response also includes in-person training and observation of protocols for each facility with an outbreak.

"We have rapid response teams that go out to every facility that has a case to provide training and material support and we have liason nurses who visit the facility every day in order to observe how well they are applying infection control and to identify any other needs that they may have," he said.

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Unlike some counties in Maryland, Virginia has not released the names of individual facilities experiencing outbreaks or the number of cases and deaths at those facilities.

A spokeswoman for VDH did not respond to FOX 5's questions about why that information is not being reported.