A semblance of normalcy has returned to the Greenspring Retirement Community more than two weeks after an outbreak of respiratory illnesses struck the senior living facility, putting 23 people in the hospital and possibly contributing to three deaths.
All of the residents hospitalized for respiratory symptoms have now returned to Greenspring, and no new cases have been reported for several days, Erickson Living regional communications manager Courtney Benhoff told the Fairfax County Times on Tuesday.
The majority of residents that were being monitored are no longer showing signs of illness, and most Greenspring employees have returned to work.
Greenspring is one of three retirement communities that Erickson Living developed and manages in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area.
“At Greenspring, there is nothing that is more important to us than the health and well-being of those who live and work on campus,” the Greenspring team said in a statement provided by Benhoff. “According to the Fairfax County Health Department, the community has instituted all appropriate preventative measures to stop further illnesses and those actions are having a positive result.”
Greenspring reported to the Fairfax County Health Department earlier this month that 54 out of the 263 residents in its Garden Ridge long-term care facility had fallen ill with respiratory symptoms that ranged from coughing to pneumonia.
The health department announced on July 11 that it was conducting an outbreak investigation at Greenspring, which has a 58-acre campus in Springfield that offers assisted living and skilled nursing care through Garden Ridge as well as apartment homes for independent living.
At that point, 18 individuals had been hospitalized, two of whom died. Both of the people who died were hospitalized with pneumonia and dealt with complex medical problems that made it difficult for the health department to determine how much the pneumonia contributed to their deaths.
The health department reported on July 16 that a third person had died in connection with the outbreak, though that individual also had other medical conditions.
“The Health Department does not know the full medical history and the extent to which the respiratory illness contributed to the deaths,” Fairfax County Health Department communications director John Silcox said.
At that point, the number of residents affected by the illness had increased to 63 individuals, and 19 Greenspring employees also reported experiencing respiratory difficulties since the outbreak began on June 30.
Working with the county health department along with the Virginia Department of Health, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tested 17 samples taken from ill residents, but as of July 19, the agency had not been able to identify a specific cause for the sudden uptick in respiratory illness from either that initial testing or additional laboratory testing.
CDC test results uncovered several bacteria known to “colonize” the nose and throat but may not be the cause of infection, and several specimens tested positive rhinovirus, the respiratory virus most frequently found in humans and the main source of the common cold, according to the Fairfax County Health Department.
The outbreak was confined to the Garden Ridge facility, as Greenspring’s independent living section, which houses approximately 1,700 residents, did not see levels of illness considered unusual or unexpected for a fairly large community of older residents.
The county began investigating reports of a similar outbreak at the Heatherwood assisted living facility in Burke on July 17, but the health department found no evidence that the illnesses seen at Heatherwood was connected to the situation at Greenspring.
The department stated on July 18 that most of the ill Heatherwood residents had recovered.
“During the publicity surrounding the Greenspring outbreak investigation, staff at Heatherwood proactively reached out to the Health Department to request guidance for ensuring the safety and health of the residents within their assisted-living facility,” the health department said. “…The facility has been working very closely with the Health Department to ensure that their infection control measures reflect the Health Department’s current best practices.”
The Fairfax County Health Department also worked with Greenspring to implement measures designed to prevent the infections from spreading further.
Infection control measures instituted by Greenspring include a temporary suspension of group activities, screenings of residents for signs of illness, and additional cleaning.
Greenspring also instructed independent living residents to not visit Garden Ridge and enhanced surveillance for illness in the independent living areas “out of an abundance of caution,” Fairfax County says.
“We greatly value our partnership with the county health department and continue to work closely together to take all of the actions needed to safeguard the health of our community,” Benhoff said.