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Virus hits long-term care center in St. Pete

Six staffers and 14 residents at Grand Villa of St. Petersburg have tested positive so far, with three residents being sent to hospitals.

BY MARK PUENTE

Times Staff Writer

The Grand Villa of St. Petersburg, a long-term care center, is dealing with a COVID-19 outbreak after a resident returned from a trip to Bayfront Health St. Petersburg, the company told relatives and employees.

On Saturday evening, executive director Scott Elsass said that 14 residents in the memory care center at 3600 34th Street S tested positive for the virus and that none of those residents had symptoms, such as fevers, shortness of breath or vomiting.

“The week before, every single resident and staff member tested negative,” Elsass said in a statement. “Not even a week later, we had a positive of a resident that had been at BayFront, and so we tested all the residents, staff and third-party providers again.”

Several hours before Elsass alerted families, Pinellas County officials helped transfer three of the residents to local hospitals, according to an email sent to the Pinellas County Commission. Assistant county admin-istrator Lourdes Benedict said that county officials and leaders of the Florida Department of Public Health in Pinellas County were working with the center to help get the outbreak under control.

Elsass also told relatives the facility has hired sanitation teams to clean the areas after residents tested positive. He is awaiting results from an additional 33 tests on residents in the assisted-living center on the campus, the statement said. He said the center doesn’t “know how this virus is spreading, as we have numerous residents that share apartments.”

A statement issued on Sunday from company president John Moschner said six staffers also tested positive. All are “selfisolating and seeking any necessary medical treatments. They will be able to return to work once they receive the necessary negative results,” the statement said.

“One will test positive and the other one negative,” Elsass told families, regarding the residents. “We even have a married couple in Memory Care that share a bed, and one tested positive and one tested negative.”

The coronavirus has hit seniors especially hard. A recent Tampa Bay Times analysis found that 83 percent of Floridians who died from the virus were 65 and older, and 43 percent of deaths were tied to longterm care facilities.

One of the deadliest outbreaks in the state took place at Seminole Pavilion. The nursing home and rehabilitation center is part of Freedom Square of Seminole, a sprawling retirement community that also includes assisted-living and independent-living housing. The death toll at that facil-

ity was 32 residents and one employee, according to a Times count as of June 9.

On Friday, Thomas Iovino, spokesman for the Florida Department of Health in Pinellas County, said that on-site testing would finish that day at long-term care centers in Pinellas County. The facilities, which did their own testing, are still sending the test kits back, he said, estimating that the overall number of those tested will be in the “thousands.”

To help slow the possible spread of the virus, Elsass said residents are placed in a “transition program” after they go for treatments or to a hospital, adding: “I panic every time a resident has to go to the emergency room.”

Elsass said people have asked him what they could do to help the facility.

“Go up to these people around us who are so rude to meet in groups, blow off social distancing and almost laugh at this disease, just slap them for me,” Elsass wrote. “... and let them know their grandparents are VERY disappointed in

them.”

Contact Mark Puente at mpuente@tampabay.com. Follow @ MarkPuente

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