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Virus kills 5 more in Essex County

Two at senior citizens home

The gym of the former Willsboro school was converted into a dining hall for Champlain Valley Senior Community — complete with holdover elements such as a scoreboard and wooden bleachers — as seen in June 2013. (Enterprise photo — Chris Knight)

Two residents of a senior home in Willsboro have died after contracting COVID-19, and three other Essex County residents also died this week of the disease.

There is a coronavirus outbreak at the Champlain Valley Senior Community. At least 30 people connected to the assisted living facility have tested positive, according to Willsboro town Supervisor and Essex County Board of Supervisors Chairman Shaun Gillilland.

After cases were discovered there, the Essex County Health Department deployed rapid test kits to the home, according to Gillilland.

The Essex County Health Department has reported five deaths from COVID-19 in the past week. That includes the two CVSC residents, plus three Essex County residents who weren’t living in the nursing home. Where those residents were from, their ages, and their names have not been released. Asked for that information — even though the health department typically declines to share this kind of information, for privacy reasons — the health department did not respond by deadline.

The owners of CVSC, Eli and Emily Schwartzberg, did not respond to requests for comment by deadline Friday. Eli Schwartzberg grew up in Saranac Lake.

This is the second fatal COVID-19 outbreak at a senior home in Essex County. The first was at the Essex Center, a nursing home and rehabilitation center in Elizabethtown where 16 residents died after the virus spread throughout the facility, starting in August 2020. That outbreak happened after three COVID-positive employees, who were asymptomatic, continued working inside the facility for weeks without knowing they had tested positive more than two weeks prior — the positive results of their tests took 19 days to come back. That outbreak wasn’t detected until one of the home’s residents died, prompting officials to launch a mass-testing effort that uncovered the full scope of the virus spread.

Officials have not said how the virus entered CVSC. An official investigation into how it happened would likely be the responsibility of the state Department of Health, which regulates the facility, rather than the local health department.

The Schwartzbergs established the CVSC in a building that previously housed the Willsboro school. It’s a 42,000-square-foot building with 63 rooms, the Press-Republican reported back in 2013 when the facility opened. There’s a wing of the building dedicated to memory care, meaning care for residents with dementia or other memory impairments.

Gillilland said residents of his community were saddened by what’s happening at CVSC.

“It’s sad, but we need to concentrate on how to not spread it more,” he said.

“It’s everywhere in the community, and people realize that,” Gillilland added. “A disease is a disease. It’s not a crime. You have to work very hard to prevent it.”

Congregate living facilities are especially susceptible to the coronavirus pandemic.

“It’s our most vulnerable areas, and I know everybody is working hard to try to prevent it,” Gillilland said. “We’re up against a nasty pandemic.”

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