VIDEO: Stakes are Raised Over Deaths from COVID-19 in Chelmsford

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The state Department of Public Health is requiring certain businesses in neighboring Chelmsford to close their doors due to a surge of the Corona virus in town that killed five nursing home patients and infected about 30.

Posted to the town’s website was this: “Chelmsford must revert to step 1 of phase III of the commonwealth’s reopening plan, as outlined in COVID-19 order 51. The order specifies that a community must revert to step 1 of phase III if they are designated in the ‘red’ category for three consecutive Department of Public Health weekly reports.”

Due to a cluster discovered at the Sunny Acres Nuring Home, Chelmsford was rated high risk last week and this week. Under guidelines posted by Governor Charlie Baker, such things as fitness centers, indoor athletic facilities, museums, aquariums, outdoor performances and movie theaters must close indefinitely to help prevent the virus from spreading.

But Westford Health Director Jeff Stephens said Chelmsford’s COVID–19 statistics were skewed because the cluster was contained to a local nursing home. Westford, too, has had clustered deaths at the town’s two nursing homes, Stephens said. It’s not clear why, but Westford is not presently ranked as a risk by the state Department of Public Health.

“Chelmsford happens to be a high risk community right now mainly because there’s a cluster in a long-term care facility and that particular facility will reflect the entire town’s numbers,” Stephens said, adding it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s dangerous to be in Chelmsford.

News broke on Oct. 29 that the Sunny Acres Nursing home on Billerica Road had lost five patients to the virus and another 30 had been infected. It’s not clear when all the deaths occurred but a ProPublica probe of the nursing home showed that since May 8 there have been three deaths and 33 cases of the virus in long-term care facilities.

Since 2017 six deficiencies were discovered inside two of Chelmsford’s nursing homes — all of the deficiencies were discovered before the pandemic virus began spreading: At Sunny Acres there were nine on Aug. 22, 2018; six on Aug. 22, 2019; and six on May 19, 2017. The probe also listed several deficiencies discovered in the Palm Skilled Nursing Care and Center for Rehabilitation Excellence, in Chelmsford.

On Oct. 21, Sunny Acres Administrator Jeff Schwartz stated the home had not had a single case of the virus over the past 15 weeks until now.

“This center has been working closely with the State Department of Public Heath, and the Chelmsford Board of Health,” Schwartz stated, “and has been receiving support from infection control specialists to bring this current virus cluster under control in the center.”

Stephens said the cluster of people who died impacts the entire town’s numbers and is not an accurate reading of the likelihood the virus will spread in the community.

“So whether it be a nursing home or a prison, or a convalescent home, whatever the facility might be, where you have a group of people in a setting, it will affect the entire community,” he said.

Westford has two nursing homes, Stephens said, and one had as many as 11 patients infected with the virus on Oct. 26. That number was down to seven on Oct. 29, Stephens said, and all are recovering.

Statewide, Massachusetts has 155,564 cases of COVID-19 as of Oct. 29, according to a survey by the New York Times. Out of those, 1,346 more had just been diagnosed and there were 27 new deaths.

TOTAL REPORTED ON OCT. 29 14-DAY CHANGE
Cases 155,564 1,346 +80%

Deaths 9,951 27 +32%

Hospitalized 561 +10%

Source: New York Times

According to the Centers for Disease Control, nationally, there have been 9 million cases of COVID-19 since Jan. 21 and more than 228,000 deaths.

UPDATES — On Oct. 31, a typographical error was corrected and several phrases were refined for clarification.

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