Two employees at the Armed Forces Retirement Home have tested positive for COVID-19, officials said — one at each of the two campuses, in Gulfport, Miss., and in Washington.
To date, no residents of either of the campuses have tested positive for the coronavirus. The average age of the residents is 83, and most residents would be considered vulnerable to the coronavirus because of their age.
These are the first confirmed coronavirus cases involving staff members, and officials were notified about the results on April 30.
The Armed Forces Retirement Home is the nation’s oldest continually operating retirement home for enlisted military personnel. The Washington campus currently has 259 residents, and the Gulfport campus has 439 residents, according to AFRH spokesman Chris Kelly.
Residents of the AFRH campuses are retired or certain former enlisted members. In addition to resident fees, part of AFRH’s funding currently comes from the 50-cent-a-month deduction from active-duty enlisted service members’ paychecks, and fines imposed on enlisted members for disciplinary violations.
The two staff members are currently recovering at home, officials said. They had symptoms which prompted the testing that confirmed the coronavirus, Kelly said.
One is a food service contractor at the campus in Washington and was last on campus on April 22. The contractor works evening shifts with essentially no contact with residents, officials said. Contact tracing determined the contractor interacted with several other food service personnel, but no other food service personnel have symptoms. All have their temperature checked before working and wear a mask while on duty.
The other is an employee at the campus in Gulfport, who works in a health care administration role, and doesn’t provide direct services to AFRH residents, and was last on campus on April 24. Officials determined through contact tracing that the staff member interacted with several other staff members, including senior leaders, but all AFRH personnel have been maintaining social distancing and wearing face coverings in the workplace. There is no evidence the individual interacted with residents.
“Although these are the first confirmed COVID-19 cases involving staff, AFRH remains vigilant in limiting exposure of the virus in the Home,” officials said in a statement. “Those who have a positive test, in addition to self-isolating for the duration of their illness, will be required to have two negative tests prior to returning to the campus.”
Since March 30, all residents have been required to remain on campus, and residents strictly limit contact with others. Only residents and AFRH personnel have access to the campus and facilities that house residents. No visitors, including family and friends, are allowed.
Facial coverings are required for everyone, and staff members in the areas providing advanced care receive daily temperature checks and health screenings. Officials have suspended communal dining in food service facilities, and meals are carry-out only for residents in independent living.
AFRH started its COVID-19 response in January by encouraging the frequent handwashing and use of hand sanitizers before entering common areas. In March, officials set up social distancing guidelines, mandated use of hand sanitizer at all building entrances and throughout the community, and limited visitors.
Karen has covered military families, quality of life and consumer issues for Military Times for more than 30 years, and is co-author of a chapter on media coverage of military families in the book "A Battle Plan for Supporting Military Families." She previously worked for newspapers in Guam, Norfolk, Jacksonville, Fla., and Athens, Ga.