5 residents at Great Barrington nursing home test positive for coronavirus

A cluster of residents in one unit at Fairview Commons has tested positive for the coronavirus, and the town's Health Department is working with the state and the nursing home to help combat further spread of disease.

GREAT BARRINGTON — A cluster of residents in one unit at Fairview Commons has tested positive for the coronavirus, and the town's Health Department is working with the state and the nursing home to help combat further spread of disease.

All 5 residents to test positive are in private rooms in the nursing home's short-term rehabilitation unit, and all were asymptomatic when tested, according to Lisa Gaudet, vice president of communications for the facility's parent company, Berkshire Heathcare Systems.

Another 97 residents at the Christian Hill Road site tested negative, and results are pending for another six. Every resident in the building was tested Friday, Gaudet added.

The news comes after a larger outbreak at Williamstown Commons, one of the company's four Berkshire facilities, where 10 residents have died, and at least 34 residents have tested positive so far.

And both outbreaks are part of a disturbing trend statewide as the virus tears through nursing homes. It is leading to a shift by the state in how it decides who should be tested, particularly given the mysteries of the virus' spread from people who do not show symptoms, Gaudet said.

"When this first started to emerge, [testing] was often related to having some degree of symptoms, or because they had traveled or because they had been in direct contract with someone who has it," Gaudet said. "What we're starting to learn across the county is that there are a lot of people that don't have symptoms or very strong symptoms."

"We're not testing everyone at all facilities, but we're beginning to see that that's something that that needs to happen," she added.

Gaudet also said that the company's widespread testing at Fairview was at the request of the state Department of Public Health, which had considered using the facility for a COVID-19 recovery center. The agency wanted to make sure it was virus free before moving ahead with any plans.

So far, tests results are negative for some symptomatic residents at the company's Pittsfield facility, Hillcrest. At North Adams Commons, the company hasn't had to test yet.

Meanwhile, Great Barrington Health Agent Rebecca Jurczyk said her office is a go-between for Fairview and the state to make sure the nursing home has what it needs. Gaudet said the agency is closely monitoring the situation to make sure Fairview has enough personal protective equipment like masks and gloves, and to monitor those positive residents for symptoms of COVID-19.

Berkshire lawmakers in recent days have pressed for more action from the state agency to quickly test and monitor nursing homes for the presence of disease. They have also pressed the state to send more test kits farther west than Springfield.

"In group settings, if there's any positives they should test everybody, automatic," said state Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli, D-Lenox. "It's the Williamstown Commons situation all over again if we're not careful."

Heather Bellow can be reached at hbellow@berkshireagle.com or on Twitter @BE_hbellow and 413-329-6871.