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Coronavirus at Holyoke Soldiers Home: Number of positive results for COVID-19 steady, 2 veterans die overnight

3/31/2020 - Holyoke - The Soldiers' Home in Holyoke. (Hoang 'Leon' Nguyen / The Republican/TNS)

At least 70% of the veterans who were living at the Holyoke Soldiers Home when the coronavirus first broke out in mid-March have now contracted the disease and two more people have died of COVID-19 in the past day.

Officials for the Executive Office of Health and Human Services reported as of Thursday a total of 57 residents have died of COVID-19, tests are pending on one person who died and another is unknown. Nine other people have died of other causes since the first veteran tested positive on March 21.

One of the residents who died in the past day was former Westfield Police Sgt. William Chandler, family members announced.

Chandler, who retired in 1995 after serving on the department for 32 years with the last 15 in the traffic bureau. Previously he had served four years in the U.S. Navy where he studied to be an electrician.

He was known as being good-natured, compassionate and an overall “nice guy.” Co-workers interviewed in a Republican story about his retirement said they would also miss his encyclopedic knowledge especially about traffic problems and laws.

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The number of veterans who have tested positive for the coronavirus has remained steady for the past three days. As of Thursday 90 veterans have tested positive for the coronavirus and test results are pending for another eight residents, officials said.

A total of 81 employees have also tested positive for COVID-19, officials said.

After state officials were alerted by the employees’ union and Mayor Alex B. Morse about their concerns that the virus was rapidly spreading through the facility, a team from Health and Human Services inspected the home on March 30. Before noon Superintendent Bennett Walsh had been placed on paid administrative leave and Val Liptak, CEO of Western Massachusetts Hospital was asked to take over management.

Walsh, who reported in a court injunction that he is believed to have contracted the coronavirus, has denied any mismanagement and called any accusations of wrong-doing as “outrageous.”

The state also quickly set up a clinical team of experts to handle different facets of the crisis. About 160 National Guard members who have medical, logistical or operations expertise are also working at the home to augment the depleted staff, officials said.

Multiple agencies including the U.S. Attorney, the state Inspector General, and state Attorney General Maura Healey are conducting independent investigations into the crisis at the Soldiers’ Home, where about 210 veterans lived when the crisis began.

Over the past day the amount of personal protective equipment for staff has been increased after Hasboro and Cartamundi donated 250 face shields to the facility, state officials said.

The National Guard also brought in two ionizing machines to purify the air and help prevent the coronavirus from spreading to the about 30 residents who remain at the home who have not been infected with the virus. Another about 30 residents who tested negative have been transferred to a special unit at Holyoke Medical Center to help keep them disease-free, officials said.

“To support the emotional well-being of staff, National Guard chaplains are offering a short service to allow staff to reflect, decompress and pray in a peaceful setting,” officials said.

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© 2020 The Republican