Timeline: A deadly virus spreads through a Jacksonville assisted living facility

It started March 13 with an announcement from Mayor Lenny Curry. It’s unclear when it will end.

Assisted living facility on Jacksonville’s Southside reports 5th coronavirus case

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Virginia Lesperance doesn’t know the next time she will be able to feel her mother’s embrace. Tears fill her eyes when she thinks about it.

“We can still talk all the time but I haven’t been able to hug her, just go out and hang out with her and spending any time, so yeah, it’s hard,” said Lesperance. “Who knows how much longer they are going to be in quarantine?”

Mary, her mother, lives at an assisted-living facility across the street from Lesperance’s home, but she’s been quarantined to her room at Camellia at Deerwood since the first resident there tested positive for COVID-19.

Less than a week after the first confirmed diagnosis, the facility sent out an email to families Thursday informing them about the fifth case — a presumed positive test — of the new coronavirus in their small community for seniors.

The first resident to test positive at the facility died this week, according to the Florida Department of Health.

Executive Director Renea McGrath told families and residents there is still another resident with a pending test.

“It’s doubling," Lesperance said. “It went from one to two quickly, then there was four and now possibly six.”

The timeline

It started on March 13.

During a Friday afternoon news conference, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry revealed the patient, an 83-year-old man, was living in a senior facility on the Southside — later found to be Camellia at Deerwood.

The yet-to-be-identified man, whose death was announced Thursday, lived in an independent living section of the facility.

Management confirmed another positive diagnosis for COVID-19 in an email sent to families on Monday. The email said both residents were being quarantined in the hospital.

On Tuesday, the facility sent out another correspondence confirming two more residents tested positive — one resident in assisted-living and another in independent living.

Another email came on Thursday. That’s when the facility told families about another resident who tested as a presumptive positive for coronavirus.

The new case would be the fifth resident diagnosed with the deadly virus if the CDC confirms the diagnosis. In the same email, families learned there is still one pending test.

Family concerns are growing. Some are hoping for the best and that their loved ones are untouched by the virus. Others have opted to remove their families from the facility.

Independent living

Based on the information sent to families, most of the cases have impacted residents in independent living.

That’s the facility Lesperance’s mother lives in.

“They eat meals together. They go to the gym together; they do everything together. I think it’s probably just assumed that these people came in contact with everybody because even the assisted-living people, they all congregate together,” said Lesperance. “They have a separate area that’s memory care, so they are kept away from everyone else. None of them have been in memory care that I know of, so that’s awesome for them.”

Families with loved ones inside Camellia at Deerwood can’t help but draw similarities between what’s happening in Camellia and what’s still unfolding in Kirkland, Washington at Life Care Center. The assisted living facility is referred to as the epicenter of COVID-19 in the United States. More than 30 residents who died at the facility tested positive for the virus.

A CDC investigation released Wednesday found the staff at Life Care Center may have spread coronavirus to other long-term care facilities.

Stop the spread

Lesperance can drop things off at the front desk for her mother, but she can’t go inside.

The facility is not allowing any visitors other than essential staff and medical personnel.

“I feel like they’re doing a fantastic job, but it is scary. Things are just out of your control. You just don’t know who brought it in, who is a carrier of it and it’s been tough, but I did talk with my mom last night. Her three sisters and I were able to FaceTime her,” said Lesperance.

Camellia at Deerwood management said they are isolating all of their residents, including those in independent living, assisted living and memory care.

They are delivering meals to all residents, the laundry rooms have been closed and they are restricting access for any residents who leave the community until all active cases are fully resolved.

The facility said it is also screening essential staff and first responders each time they enter the building to review their wellness and their travel.

“Both the Florida DOH and ACHA have been closely involved (including frequent visits to our community). We greatly appreciate their ongoing support and guidance as well as support from our residents, family members, associates, and local healthcare professionals,” said Senior Executive Director Renea McGrath.

In an email to families on Thursday, when the director announced the fifth presumptive case, management said it is taking temperatures of each resident daily, sometimes twice a day.

Staff at Camellia at Deerwood is also encouraging families to stay connected with residents through phone and video calls.

No more details released

News4Jax reached out to management at Camellia at Deerwood on Thursday to ask about the new cases and whether they were testing employees who have interacted and cared for the patients who tested positive.

Their response was that they were not going to release additional details for the sake of residents’ privacy.

So far the facility has only directly released numbers of cases to media outlets.

“We have been transparent in our responses to media inquiries since Camellia at Deerwood and our local area was first directly impacted by COVID-19. In accordance with Health Information Privacy as well as out of respect for the privacy and dignity of our residents, we are not disclosing additional details. The Florida Department of Health remains the source to confirm or deny information regarding COVID-19 in our area,” said McGrath.

News4Jax also reached out to the Florida Department of Health on Thursday, but we have to get a reply from the state agency.

Lesperance is hoping her mother pulls through.

She said Mary, a former nurse, is in good spirits, but Lesperance worries the longer the lockdown goes on, the more it will impact her mother.

“She sounded a little bit more down," Lesperance said Thursday. “I’m sure she’s getting tired of this also, but she’s getting fed and her temperature is checked. She is still doing OK.”

About the Author:

Kelly Wiley, an award-winning investigative reporter, joined the News4Jax I-Team in June 2019.