2 associated with Essex Jct. senior living complex die of COVID-19

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ESSEX, Vt. (WCAX) Coronavirus concerns are hitting another Chittenden County senior living facility. The Essex Junction complex is on high alert after possible COVID-19 contamination and the death of at least two people.

Vermont health officials Monday said they are working closely with the operators of Pinecrest at Essex to avoid the kind of outbreak seen at Burlington Health and Rehab, where seven people died over the past two weeks from the virus.

"It's just so sad and I keep trying to think positive, and it's sort of hard," said Nancy Burke, a resident in one of Pinecrest's 104 apartments.

Officials Monday said a worker tested positive and their spouse died from COVID-19. They say a resident also succumbed to the illness.

Burke says she worries about her health and the health of her neighbors at the independent senior living complex. Although it's unlike a nursing home or assisted-living facility, there are common areas. She and other residents were told to stay away from each other for the next 14 days.

We talked to her from her front porch. It's how she's socializing now -- at a distance. "Talking to my family on the phone and they stay outside sharing a picnic with me," Burke said.

But Burke and other residents are rattled knowing COVID-19 could have spread there. On Monday, another body was seen being removed. It's still unclear if that person died from COVID-19, but first-responders were covered head-to-toe in protective gear and were spotted spraying disinfectant.

The state is monitoring residents who may have been in contact with those infected for symptoms like fever, cough or shortness of breath, but there are no plans for facility-wide testing. Vermont Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine says if someone isn't showing signs, they could get a false negative, so only those with symptoms would be tested.

"Everyone who has been identified as any significant contact is by definition -- are doing what they would do if they were a positive test -- which is self-isolating," Levine said. "We have to be very direct about advising people to not be congregating in those particular parts of the building."

And Burke is taking matters into her own hands too, by washing them -- a lot. "I'm in that old age category and I don't like that idea," she said. "They say happy birthday and all that stuff, and I though Hail Marys work nicely -- three of those."

Family members of residents who live there tell WCAX the staff member diagnosed with COVID-19 was interacting with others at Pinecrest in common areas within days of the diagnosis.

Pinecrest officials did not respond to requests for an interview.