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How the DMV plans to protect senior citizens, a population at extra risk from coronavirus

The Montgomery County Health Department says it is working closely with local nursing homes and retirement communities to fight the virus' spread.

WASHINGTON — Montgomery County health officials say they are working closely with local nursing homes and retirement communities to prevent the coronavirus' spread.

Older adults are at higher risk of getting very sick from the coronavirus than other age groups, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

So far, all five of the positive coronavirus cases in Maryland have been patients age 50 or older.

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WUSA9 Digital Investigative Reporter Jordan Fischer analyzed U.S. Census data to determine what communities in Maryland, DC, and Virginia had the highest concentrations of senior citizens.

The data showed Montgomery County had five of the top 20 census tracts with the highest concentrations of older adults among the three jurisdictions. Another three census tracts in Loudoun, Prince William, and Fairfax counties cracked the top 20.

Dr. Travis Gayles, Health Officer of the Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services, said the department does not believe the county is susceptible to a larger coronavirus outbreak, despite its relatively high senior population.

"And, I say that, because right now, based upon the information that we have available, all of our cases are related to travel histories," he said. "There's no data or evidence to suggest we have any evidence of community transmission."

The Montgomery County census tracts that topped the list all include retirement communities like Leisure World, Asbury Methodist Village in Gaithersburg, and Brighton Gardens in Chevy Chase. 

In Loudoun County, the area around Lansdowne Resort and Spa has a high density of seniors. In western Prince William County, the community around Heritage Hunt Country Club is densely populated with older adults. And, in Fairfax County, the area with the most seniors-per-population can be found around the Montebello condominium complex in the Alexandria section of Fairfax County.

Dr. Gayles said Montgomery County's health department started preparing to protect local senior citizens before the coronavirus was detected in the region last week. 

He said the department has been working closely with county nursing homes and retirement communities to prevent the coronavirus' spread. 

"We reached out, making sure folks were following the necessary traditional disease control procedures," he said. "And, that those institutions and facilities had taken a look at their preparedness plans."

Loudoun, Prince William, and Fairfax counties say they also have strategies to protect their older residents. 

Loudoun health officials sent a letter to facilities in the county that serve older adults, telling them to identify employees who can care for coronavirus patients and provide infection control training.

At a Prince William County Board of Supervisors meeting, on Tuesday, health officials said they have held meetings with the county's long-term care communities.

While Fairfax County's Health Department says it has held training sessions with "Skilled Nursing Facilities". A county spokesperson said health officials are planning a similar event for Assisted Living Facilities possibly next week as well.

Between Loudoun, Prince William, Fairfax County, and Fairfax City, health officials have only identified one coronavirus patient older than 50. 

So far, health officials have said only two of the northern Virginia cases are related to travel.

Some retirement communities in the DMV are being proactive to prevent the coronavirus' spread. 

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Asbury Methodist Village Executive Director Michele Potter wrote on the retirement community's Facebook page that it is working to teach associates more about coronavirus prevention.

The Village of Rockville retirement community was not one of the areas identified in WUSA9 research as being one of the census tracts most densely populated by seniors in the state.

Last week, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan identified the community as a place one Montgomery County coronavirus patient had visited.

Interestingly enough, the village is located in the middle of the three aforementioned census tracts in Montgomery County.


John Henry is a reporter for WUSA9. You can follow him on Twitter at @JohnHenryWUSA.

Jordan Fischer is the data reporter for WUSA9. You can follow him on Twitter at @JordanOnRecord.

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