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The Holyoke Soldiers' Home, the site of the worst COVID-19 outbreak in a Mass. nursing home, is once again suspending all outside visitors. The move comes one day after a veteran who had "clinically recovered" from COVID-19 started showing symptoms and was transferred to a local hospital where he tested virus-positive, a spokeswoman for Health and Human Services said.
The spokeswoman added that the home is "immediately taking necessary precautions" like quarantining veterans who lived on this man's unit, closing all communal spaces in the state-run facility and re-testing all residents and staff for the virus.
While some patients who fully or partially recovered from COVID-19 have experienced a sudden recurrence of symptoms, it’s not clear why that is. It’s still unknown how long immunity to the coronavirus lasts after recovery, and immunity to related coronaviruses like a common cold or SARS ranges from a few months to a few years.
Simply because someone has tested positive for the coronavirus after recovering doesn’t necessarily mean they’ve been re-infected. Some studies have suggested that these individuals are shedding dead virus or fragments of the coronavirus that trigger a positive test, and Korean scientists found that individuals who became positive again after recovering from COVID-19 didn’t infect anyone new. So, it’s still unclear how likely reinfection is or if a relapse means that you’re contagious.
If those who have experienced a relapse in COVID-19 symptoms aren’t being re-infected, researchers think it’s possible that they might not have ever fully recovered from the coronavirus in the first place or it could be a lingering immune response to the defeated illness.
The Holyoke Soldiers' Home hasn't reported a new coronavirus case in over a month, though according to an update from Friday afternoon, one veteran was waiting on the results of a test and one other refused to be tested.
For now, it’s unclear how the COVID-positive veteran is doing, and for those who have followed the situation in the home closely, the news of the man's symptoms is worrisome.
"It’s scary. It’s been great that we haven’t heard of anything COVID-related [at the home] for a while now, but this is not good news," says Cheryl Malandrinos, whose father-in-law, Harry Malandrinos, contracted the virus at the Soldiers' Home and died in the spring.
"And it must be so hard for [the veterans]," she adds. "My father-in-law was very fortunate because he had his wits with him to the end, but there are residents over there who do not understand what’s going on and are feeling really isolated from their families. We’re meant to see people, hug each other and show signs of affection. It’s very sad [that they had to suspend visits]."
Laurie Beaudette, whose father had lived at the Soldiers’ Home for 16 years before he died from COVID-19 in April, agrees.
"I think it's awful," she writes in an email. Between having so many interim leaders and fewer National Guard members on site, "it's a recipe for disaster," she says.
To date, 76 veterans have died from the virus in the home while another 80 or so have recovered. All staff who previously tested positive have also recovered, the state says.
After months of strict infection control policies and a ban on visitors, the Soldiers' Home resumed outdoor family visits on June 15. Since then, family members have visited their loved ones over 580 times.
This article was originally published on July 28, 2020.
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