Medicare ordered American nursing homes locked down weeks ago, but coronavirus still seems to be spreading among seniors "like wildfire," according to Gov. Larry Hogan.
The Associated Press has tallied at least 450 deaths and nearly 2,000 infections at nursing homes and long-term care facilities around the country.
In Frederick County, health officials said one man has died and five others are infected and in isolation at the Frederick Health and Rehab Center.
The center told the county it boosted precautions weeks ago. But on Medicare.gov, even before the crisis, the Frederick center was rated "much below average" overall, based on measures like health inspections, staffing and quality.
At the Pleasant View Nursing Home in Mt. Airy, Maryland, the virus has killed five people and infected 77, apparently brought in, according to Hogan, by a health worker who was showing no symptoms.
"I feel really heartbroken for those affected," neighbor Cathy Harris said, her eyes welling with tears. "I just wonder what can I do? I can't help them but i can help someone else."
Across the region, there are positive cases in Bethesda, Silver Spring, Westminster and Baltimore County.
So If you have a loved one in a nursing home right now, should you go get them and take them out?
"If it's possible to take someone out, this might be a time to do that, and I think a lot of people are doing that," Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, former Maryland Secretary of Health and Mental Hygiene and current vice dean of the Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said.
But he warns that those who are already fragile and sick may be best left where they are.
"You don't want to put them at greater risk," Sharfstein said.
Topnotch nursing centers are likely better at infection control, Sharfstein said. Fairfax Rehabilitation and Nursing Center in Virginia is rated much above average by Medicare. It has no reported cases of coronavirus currently, and it’s implemented strict infection control measures, such as no outside visitors and careful screening for staff.
"Whether it's COVID-19, influenza or norovirus, we plan for infections like this that could potentially have the risk of spreading," Talesha Sutermeister, the director of nursing at Fairfax Rehabilitation, said. "All our staff are required to wear masks as well.... all the time."
But they're still trying to ensure staffers and residents can have fun. Nurses have been known to dance in the hallways in full personal protective gear. And residents will sit in the doorways of their rooms and play games with their neighbors down the hall from a safe distance.
If you're in a nursing home, or you have your loved one in one, experts recommend a couple of things.
Go on CDC.gov and check what measures the Centers for Disease Control is recommending for infection control at nursing homes. Then ask the questions to find out if your nursing home is doing that.
Go to Medicare.gov and check the ratings for your center. Look for ones that are rated above average.