Beach senior living community tests COVID-free, credits strict quarantine, aggressive PPE policies

Virginia Beach

NOTE: Some of the video that accompanies this story was recorded prior to the beginning of mandatory mask regulations for Westminster-Canterbury residents

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — Westminster-Canterbury on Chesapeake Bay is not a nursing home, and with more than 75 percent of its residents living independently, prefers to be known as a “senior living community.” But the Virginia Department of Health wanted to know how it was able to keep 1100 seniors symptom-free throughout the pandemic.

CEO Benjamin Unkle Jr. credits a strict policy involving a hard quarantine. Some thought the strategy was a little too much, but it paid off.

“The first days, there was some pushback. One resident threatened to go to court and sue us,” Unkle said.

No visitors in, no residents out unless for urgent medical care. That was the policy at Westminster-Canterbury until the lockdown was relaxed somewhat last week. Restless residents might have complained, but the department of health wanted to test and see how effective it really was.

“They asked us if you’ve been symptom-free for this long at your size, we’re really interested in finding out in fact if you are virus-free,” Unkle said.

VDH tested its 1,100 residents and staff last week and the entire community came back virus-free.

How do you keep more than a thousand people engaged for two and half months when you’re restricting not only their movement but their ability to have visitors? Amp up the social offerings.

“We brought in Bands on the Bay where they would be distant on the lawn and people could be out on their balconies and listen to live music,” Unkle said.

Residents were able to connect with loved ones over the Birdsong App that 10 On Your Side profiled back in March.

Unkle says Westminster-Canterbury saw what was happening with the spread of COVID-19 early on and began to stock their shelves with personal protective equipment.

“We bought a lot of PPE before the restrictions were in place,” Unkle said.

With relaxed restrictions, residents can now leave, but upon returning they must either get a negative test result or self-quarantine before they can use the common areas.

Westminster Canterbury Continues to invest in PPE for a possible second wave and if they don’t need it, they can resell it to other centers that do need it.

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