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Health officials track spikes in cases, urge Valley residents to stay vigilant

By Ted Glanzer

Staff Writer

A spike in novel coronavirus cases statewide and, more specifically, in the Farmington Valley has local officials reminding residents to wear masks, maintain social distance of at least 6 feet and wash their hands thoroughly.

The state reported a brief, but jarring spike of the infection rate to over 6 percent on Oct. 29, withe Farmington and Avon receiving “orange alerts” from the state Department of Public Health.

An alert level is activated when a town has an increase in the number of cases per 100,000 residents over a 14-day rolling average. The alerts are yellow (five to nine cases per 100,000), orange (10 to 14 cases per 100,000) and red (15 or more cases per 100,000).

As of press time, Canton and Simsbury remained below the threshold to receive any alerts.

The Avon and Farmington school systems over the past two weeks has sent out frequent messages that individuals within the schools had tested positive for COVID-19.

On Oct. 16, Simsbury Superintendent of Schools Matt Curtis wrote a letter informing parents that school security guard Pedro “Peter” Gonzalez, who worked for U.S. Allied Security, died from complications of the virus.

“As Superintendent, I was impressed by Peter’s constantly positive attitude and the personal greeting he had for everyone who crossed his path,” Curtis wrote. “He was a great representative of our school community as someone who worked hard, took his job seriously, and cared about making connections.”

In Avon, the Avon Health Center and the Residence of Brookside reported two deaths and 50 residents testing positive for COVID-19, according to the Farmington Valley Health District.

Avon Health reported 39 of those cases, while Brookside reported 11 cases, according to health district Director Jennifer Kertanis.

Kertanis said there were some theories as to how the outbreak occurred, one of which was that an employee that the two facilities shared may have caused it. The outbreak also may have occurred after one resident sought treatment from outside the facility.

“The majority of cases all occurred within a narrow window of a couple of days,” Kertanis said. “It spread quickly. Some health care workers were asymptomatic, so we think we know how it spread between the two facilities and how it spread so quickly.”

Both facilities said they take their obligations to their residents seriously.

“We have reviewed our outbreak response with the Connecticut Department of Public Health epidemiology division and are following their recommendations,” Avon Health Center said in a statement. “We have been following CDC and DPH Infection Control guidance at all times including contact tracing to identify the source of the virus. Additionally we have followed the Governor’s orders regarding resident and staff testing. Upon noting a rise in community spread, we increased our testing of residents and staff. Given the presence of COVID in the facility, we have discontinued in person visitation and are cohorting affected residents on one unit to contain further spread of the virus.”

Brookside spokesman Ted Doyle said one more case had occurred at the facility, and that resident had died. Doyle said, however, that he was waiting from the state to determine whether the death was COVID related because that resident was in hospice for a different reason at the time of infection.

Doyle also noted that, while no number of COVID infections is trivial, just 11 of the 50 people reported to have contracted coronavirus were at Brookside.

“Eleven of 50 is kind of disproportionate,” he said. “We are not suggesting that any number is OK. We feel terrible for what’s happening at Avon Health, we jet want to make sure people know what’s going on in our building.”

Kertanis said everyone in the Valley needs to be vigilant, as officials have said we are in the midst of a second wave of infections.

“Now is not the time for people to be complacent,” she said. “We had a good spell for a while. I feel like we were seeing beginning to feel comfortable, congregate in larger groups and socializing more, and letting their guard down with regard to masking, social distancing and private gatherings. Now we’re starting to see increase again.”

Kertanis said it’s “disconcerting” and “disheartening” to see the numbers increasing because people aren’t following the proper protocols to prevent the disease’s spread.

“We know mask wearing and social distancing work,” she said, adding Connecticut went through September and early October with no cases in assisted living facilities.

“I hope we got these two under control so we can turn this back around again,” she said.


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