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Florida’s coronavirus hot spot is this Fort Lauderdale assisted living facility

Administrators at the 180-bed Atria Willow Wood ALF informed residents and their loved ones Friday that a second resident of the home had died from COVID-19.
Richard and Sheila Curren. He died this week from COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus.
Richard and Sheila Curren. He died this week from COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus. [ Family photo provided to the Miami Herald ]
Published Mar. 20, 2020|Updated Mar. 21, 2020

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Amid heightened fears over the spread of the coronavirus throughout densely populated South Florida, a large Fort Lauderale assisted living facility — a home to the virus’ most vulnerable demographic group — has become a worrisome hot spot.

Administrators at the 180-bed Atria Willow Wood ALF informed residents and their loved ones Friday that a second resident of the home had died from COVID-19, the disease cause by the extremely contagious respiratory infection that has spurred a pandemic. The second death linked to the virus appears to be of a 93-year-old man whose test for the disease initially was reported to be negative.

On Sunday, 77-year-old Richard Curren became the first to succumb to the disease. Curren’s daughter, Tracy Curren Wieder, said Curren had been hospitalized a week ago Friday when his respiratory illness failed to improve. He suffered a cardiac arrest at Holy Cross Hospital last Sunday and could not be revived. Wieder said she was told her father had tested positive for COVID-19.

Related: Broward assisted living facility didn't screen employees, DeSantis says. Now two residents are dead.

In an email to family members, Atria Senior Living’s senior vice president, Yunia Gonzelez, said five other residents of the home are hospitalized, and “have tested positive for COVID-19.” Gonzelez said administrators at the home, at 2855 W. Commercial Blvd., were “waiting on the test result” for six other residents.

Among them may be a person who was transported from the facility Wednesday by paramedics wearing protective equipment. It was unclear at the time whether that person was a resident or an employee.

“We remain in close coordination with the [state] Department of Health throughout the day,” Gonzelez added. “We continue to take all necessary precautions as advised by health officials.”

The virus’ particular danger to older people has been a hallmark of its advance: In Kirkland, Wash., a suburb of Seattle, 26 people died at the Life Care Center nursing home — 13 of whom tested positive for COVID-19.

There are 691 licensed nursing homes in Florida, representing about 84,448 beds — and another 3,080 licensed ALFs, representing about 106,103 beds.

At a news conference Wednesday, the head of Florida’s Agency for Health Care Administration, Mary Mayhew, said 19 long-term care facilities have either suspected or confirmed cases of the virus. State leaders have not provided more recent information.

Lacking evidence that the virus had taken hold at Willow Wood, authorities were at first reluctant to raise too many concerns at the Fort Lauderdale home, as frail and medically compromised elders die at long-term care facilities in the normal course of events.

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“This terrible tragedy is yet another reminder of how important it is for us to maintain our vigilance against the spread of this disease,” said Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis.

“The inconvenience of the restrictions in our day-to-day activities is but a small sacrifice to pay in order to save lives,” Trantalis added. “Our community has come together unlike any other time in our history. It’s a proud moment for all of us to share.”

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